Sweet and Salt-Dusted: Why Salt Improves Chocolate

Salt. Jimmy Buffett sings about searching for a lost shaker of it in “Margaritaville.” At Amelia Toffee, we searched for months before we came up with the right salt for our artisan toffee. We found it at The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island Salt Shop. From their fascinating collection of flavor-infused salt, we selected a handful to use in our toffee.

Saltiness is one of the five separate tastes our taste buds recognize. The others are sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and umami (savory). Before it ever gets into a shaker, salt starts out as a rock. And it’s the only rock you can eat.

So, why add a salty flavor to something sweet? There’s a science to it. Not only does salt reduce bitterness and balance sweetness, it stimulates the taste buds. Adding salt helps release aroma molecules. Wow, does it! Wish you could inhale the aroma that wafts up when we do a light dusting of salt on a batch of chocolate while it’s still warm.

One teaspoon per batch is all it takes

Through experimentation in our commercial kitchen, we discovered how perfectly salt highlights the flavor of our toffee. Getting just the right amount took some fine-tuning. Too little, and you don’t get the benefits. Too much, and all you taste is the salt.

Salt takes the toffee from a one-dimension flavor profile to a two-dimensional flavor, with salt as the underlying flavor. Among the specialty salts we use are vanilla, lime, Cyprus flake, lime, ghost pepper. We also use Himalayan pink salt, considered to be an especially pure salt.

In case you’re on a salt-restricted diet, don’t despair. We use only one teaspoon of salt in an entire batch of toffee. It doesn’t take much to bring out the flavor.

Surprising taste combinations

Adding salt to a sweet gourmet chocolate treat is all about balance. As we tested recipes, we knew we couldn’t let the saltiness overpower the rich dark chocolate flavor. When we use salted peanuts or almonds, we decrease the amount of added salt.

When we use local craft beer to enhance the fresh ingredients in our Bold Brew peanut toffee, it’s very rich, so we don’t need salt to enhance the flavor. In our first attempt at using ghost pepper salt (for our Ghost of Amelia toffee) we used too much by mistake—it was way too hot.

The right formula ended up being only half a teaspoon of ghost pepper salt per batch, since our goal is to create warmth, but not heat.

We try every recipe in a number of ways to get a perfect flavor combination. We were recently asked to come up with a coffee toffee for retailer who also sells espresso. The winning recipe uses coarse sea salt lightly sprinkled on top. That combination makes the flavor stand out best.

We came across a few surprises as we worked with key lime and orange flavored toffees. I never thought we’d be making a key lime toffee. We thought lime salt and key lime flavor would be too sour, but the salt balanced out the bitterness. Salt is a wonderful compliment to our citrus flavors, and new twists on citrus are especially satisfying to our friends all over Florida.

Even with all the other flavors we now offer, our Sea Salt dark chocolate toffee topped with natural sea salt is our best seller for chocolate lovers of all ages. So we’ll keep making that in ample supplies.

Next on the horizon: We’re working with a distillery on Amelia Island. So watch for our next gourmet artisan toffee. The flavors of vanilla espresso vodka, chocolate and vanilla salt are wafting out of our kitchen now.