Why a Margarita Has a Salted Rim

Whether you like your Margarita with a salted rim or not, you’ve probably wondered at least once how the cocktail got its savory garnish. While the roots of the tequila drink are murky at best, it seems that even some of the earliest origin stories say the drink was served with a salted rim. Here, we dive into the history behind the Marg garnish and why it enhances the cocktail.

The History of the Margarita

The origins of the Margarita are far from clear, and it seems like the appearance of salt is even more mysterious. Some say the Margarita was invented by Carlos “Danny” Herrera at his restaurant Rancho La Gloria in 1938 for Ziegfeld showgirl Marjorie King when she was on holiday in Tijuana, Mexico. King apparently was allergic to every hard liquor except for tequila, but she didn’t want to sip the agave spirit straight. So Herrera whipped up the drink and gave it a Spanish version of her name. It was made with three parts blanco tequila, two parts Cointreau and one part fresh lemon juice with a salted rim.
Another account says the Margarita was invented in 1941 by bartender Don Carlos Orozco at Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada, Mexico. The daughter of the German ambassador to Mexico, Margarita Henkel, visited the restaurant, so he decided to serve her his iteration of the drink, which he’d been experimenting with for some time. His cocktail was made with tequila, a Mexican orange liqueur called Controy and lime juice, which was shaken and served in a salt-rimmed glass. Allegedly, Henkel liked it, so Orozco decided to name the drink after her.

Why Salt Actually Enhances the Margarita

While none of the Margarita origin stories give clear answers as to why these bartenders added salt to the drink, it was a good decision. This piece gives a deeper dive into why salt is beneficial to drinks, but the upshot is this: First of all, salt helps to mellow bitter flavors. We recently had a bartender tell us that she likes to add a couple drops of saline solution to Cynar, an artichoke amaro. We tried it, and it brings the sweet notes of the liqueur to the forefront of your palate. Finally, salt enhances the overall flavor of cocktails. Though the scientific investigation is ongoing, salt supposedly stimulates your gustatory receptor cells, which make up your taste buds. It also increases saliva production, which makes the cocktail “mouthwatering” in a very literal sense.

So the next time someone asks you if you’d like salt on your Margarita, remember that history and science suggest you should say yes.