Why You Should Put Salt in your Cocktails

Shutterstock / Brent Hofacker

When it comes to cocktailing, salt is good for more than just adding to savory drinks like Bloody Marys or rimming a Margarita glass. The kitchen staple is actually one of the most versatile and important ingredients you can use behind the bar.

Ask any chef or baker and they’ll tell you about salt’s plethora of powers. They’ll say it’s much more than just a shortcut to savory. They’ll wax poetic about the interplay between sugar and salt. They’ll tell you of salt’s magical flavor-enhancing abilities. Ask bartenders worth their salt (excuse the pun), and they’ll tell you the same. Because steaks aren’t the only things that need seasoning—Daiquiris could use a sprinkle too.

Here, why you should definitely be using salt in your cocktails and how to get started.

Salt Mellows Bitterness

When added to a cocktail, salt suppresses bitter flavors, while enhancing others. Add a dash of saline to an amaro, like Campari, and you’ll notice a heightening of the liqueur’s citrus and herbal notes. Test it out for yourself with a classic Campari cocktail like a Negroni. Make two—one that includes a couple of dashes of saline solution and one without—and try the drinks side by side. You’ll see that the salted cocktail is much brighter and rounder, with a less bitter bite. If bitter isn’t your bag, consider salt your gateway into amaro-based beverages.

Salt Brings Balance to Sweet and Sour Cocktails

“Salt is the perfect companion for sweet and sour cocktails,” says Luis Hernandez, the bar manager at the Eddy in New York City. “Something sweet should always have salt as a counterbalance—and vice versa.”

Mr. Hernandez knows a thing or two about making cocktails with salt. He recently created an entire menu dedicated to the science of salt in drinks. There was the Weekend at Morts, a drink that combined the salinity in fermented green coffee with a citrus-infused salt and pimento dram; the Guilty Pleasure harnessed the aleppo pepper, which has a similar flavor to ancho chilies but is much saltier; and the Gibson paired bright, citrusy gin with briny, pickled ramps. “Salinity comes in many forms and flavors,” he says. “Every form has its own unique way of interacting with ingredients in a cocktail. It’s a matter of experimentation—finding out which salt works best to achieve balance.”

Salt Enhances the Overall Flavor of Your Cocktail

In the same way that bitters add depth to drinks, salt has its own, unique effect on your flavor receptors. While the actual science is inconclusive, many chefs and bartenders believe that salt stimulates your gustatory receptor cells (which make up your taste buds), increases saliva production, and enhances the connection between aroma and taste, all of which amplify your perception of flavor.

If you cook at home, you know the difference between the flavor of a well-seasoned soup and one that’s under-salted. With some practice, you’ll also be able to tell the difference between a seasoned cocktail and one that has yet to be salted. Give it a try at home using these tips.

Tips for Mixing Salt Into Cocktails

  • Instead of simply sprinkling salt into your drink, incorporate a saline solution. We recommend a 2:1 mix of water to salt. Dissolve the salt with warm water and store the solution in a dropper bottle for easy application.
  • Start by adding only a couple of dashes of saline solution to your drink and taste before adding more. There is such a thing as too much salt, and a little bit goes a long way.
  • Experiment with different salts. Every type of salt has a different flavor and level of salinity, and some work better than others depending on the cocktail or spirit. Make small batches of individual saline solutions and label them so you know which salt you are using. Always drop a dash of the solution on the back of your hand and try it before dropping it into a drink. Remember, practice makes perfect. Luckily, this kind of practice involves drinking your homework.