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salty palate vs. sweet palate--opinions?

  • l

I'm curious to know what people make of the following:

In my experience, eaters fall generally into two distinct categories: those who prefer salty, savory foods far more than sweets, and those who prefer sweets far more than salty/savories.

The salty folks are those who asked for jars of pickles and cocktail onions for their birthdays. The sweeties wanted a big special cake.

I fall hopelessly into the salty savories, to the point where I forget to plan dessert sometimes when I have guests coming and wind up scrounging up some grapefruit thingy at the last minute (which the sweet people only grimace at).

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  1. I love both! But I get in distinct moods where I prefer sweets or salts, but not at the same time. I don't like to mix the two, but apparently not everyone feels that way, or else we wouldn't have chocolate-covered pretzels. Similarly, some folks don't mind (or even prefer) salted nuts atop their ice cream sundae, but I always ask to make sure the nuts on my sundae are unsalted....

    -- Paul

    4 Replies
    1. re: Paul Lukas

      Yeah, I know what you mean. Salt-sweet combinations don't appeal to me either. The examples you cited apply to me too, plus:

      - I don't like fruit in my entree, or my salad or my app.

      - I don't like peanut butter, or peanuts, in my candy, or with anything sweet.

      I suppose I would describe myself as a "salty", if anything. Like Lucia, I forget to plan dessert -- or stock the sweet sodas and juices that everyone seems to prefer. I drink water most of the time, even with breakfast. I don't want a doughnut in the morning, I want a cheese omelet, or hot cereal (with butter and salt, please, not fruit or sugar). I'm a big fan of Thorne's "What John had for breakfast".

      OTOH, I make frequent pilgrimages to my local chocolatier, and I enjoy a bite of ice cream in the summer. I would be very pleased if someone were to make me a birthday cake (following a meal of macaroni and cheese, of course). So call me a fence-sitter, perhaps one who lists a bit to one side.

      1. re: C. Fox
        Leslie Brenner

        I love salt. I mean really love salt. I keep five or six kinds in the house--grey sea salt, fleur de sel, salt with lavender in it, Kosher salt, etc. Maybe I'll get me a salt lick. When I get nervous, I eat sunflower seeds in the shell, sometimes until I get a headache, which I attribute to the salt. Naturally, I love savory dishes, sour or not. A corollary to the kids love sweets and veer away from it as they get older axiom is that as we get older, we need more and more salt to get the same effect. (I think it's because the palate dulls somewhat with age.) My husband loves salt as much as I do, but he also has an impressive sweet tooth. Our five year old loves both--always has. He used to love sour, from the time he was a baby, but less and less.

        1. re: Leslie Brenner

          You get the headache too? I wasn't sure if it was the salt or not. My frequent salt indulgence of eating Vlasic sauerkraut (really crunchy)out of the jar - then drink the juice....is always followed by a whopper headache. I just can't stop.

          1. re: Leslie Brenner
            Janet A. Zimmerman

            I'm not sure that it's age so much as simply becoming desensitized to salt from using so much (similar to becoming desensitized to chiles). My parents always added lots of salt to pretty much everything, so we grew up doing the same. They still do, but over the years since I moved out, I've grown away from using quite so much. Now if I have occasion to taste my mother's food, I cringe at how salty it tastes. It's not that I don't like salty foods at all, but I don't like all my food to taste of salt.

      2. I agree totally that there tends to be an either/or relationship with savory and sweet. But I have found age to be the great divider. Very young, sweet; after 30--savory. My children don't even know dessert comes with dinner at home; I/we almost never serve it on a day to day basis ( fruit pies (apple/keylime) for big holidays). The big chocolate desserts and super sweet foods don't appeal at all any more--fruit cobbler, sure; creme caramel, bring it on. I'd be interested in other opinions on the age/savory connection.

        1. Personally, I think my salt tooth is innate and my sweet tooth learned. I find that if I try to cut down on sugar (which I do sometimes for health reasons) I eventually don't crave it at all. But if I start eating it again, I start craving it more. But my savory foods craving can hit at any time.

          Also interesting, sometimes if I eat too much sugar I will crave something salty to balance it out, but if I eat too much salt the only thing I crave is water.

          1. j
            Janet A. Zimmerman

            Berkeleybabe is correct in thinking that in general the craving for sweets diminishes with age. Newborns come into the world with a definite preference for sweets and only develop a liking for salty foods at about 6 months or so. The liking for sour foods comes even later, and bitter foods are last of all, if indeed one ever develops a liking for them. I think most adults like sweets less than most children, and tend to like less sweet "sweets" too.

            But I also think there are lots of other factors going on -- certainly how one is raised, culinarily, makes a big difference. My father, raised on a farm during the depression, didn't get a lot of candy or other sweets, so they were a big treat when he did get them. So he still has a major craving for sweets, and the things he likes are pretty sweet (Karo syrup on bread, anyone?).

            I personally like desserts, but my favorites are not very sweet, or their sweetness is mitigated by bitter or sour components (lemon curd is a major weakness of mine). I also sometimes enjoy a salty component -- for instance, I like salted nuts and caramel or salted nuts on a sundae. Overall, I don't often get cravings for sweets -- I'm much more likely to snack on nuts or crackers than sweets.

            I think that the salty v. sweet division is a bit limited, though. The first examples examples you used, for instance, were both sour as well as salty, so the people who like them could just as easily have a "sour" palate, which is probably how I'd have to describe myself -- I love anything pickled. On the other hand, I also like bitter foods much more than many other people.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Janet A. Zimmerman

              This sweet tooth is as active as it ever was. OTOH, I also like salty, sour, and on rare occasions bitter. The trouble with generalizations is that's all they are.

              1. re: Saucyknave

                It's true that this distinction, if it exists, is a major generalization. I'm just curious about it because I perceive it in myself and the people I know, and I clearly fall into one category. I was thinking about this in terms of the baker/cook dichotomy discussed earlier and think that perhaps I don't care about baking because I don't care about sweets. Though my baguette is pretty damn good.

                This site is for food enthusiasts, so I guess there are many open, curious palates out there that don't play favorites. But if you had to give up either your appetizer or your dessert, which would it be?

                1. re: lucia

                  If I had to, I would give up dessert - no question about it.

                  1. re: Jujubee

                    A life without ice cream on a warm summer evening? without pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving? without maple syrup on my bacon? without briemere's raspberry-peach pie in season? Without their blueberry muffins anytime of the year? without Ferrera's cannoli after dinner at Nha Trang? without Chinatown Ice Cream Factory's ginger and green tea ice cream before the cannoli after dinner at Nha Trang? Without Hagaan daaz?? WITHOUT CHOCOLATE?????

                    If I give up the appetizer, I can still have the main course, right?

            2. l
              Lynne Hodgman

              I have to have something salty after something sweet, unless it is very fine quality bittersweet chocolate. I love sweet and salty together; bittersweet chocolate with spiced pecans, or chocolate covered pistachios, or...

              Love fruit in my salad but NOT on my pizza (is Hawaiian pizza for kids or what?) and want my sweet potatoes with butter, salt, pepper, a pinch of nutmeg -- no marshmallows please! But sweetened whipped cream on a good cup of hot chocolate is heavenly.

              Bedtime snack is almost always salty for me: cheese is especially good. Quesadillas with green salsa is nearly perfect.

              The only wonderful sour is half-sour pickles and hot/sour soup.

              I like my coffee very dark, carmelized -- but with cream and sugar!

              I like rhubarb though, so I guess there are some sours that appeal! As a kid I ate it raw (now THAT is sour!) and dipped it in salt! If you dipped it in sugar the contrast was too puckering!

              Actually, I decided I have a "fat" palate: if it is unhealthy, I love it! I could not make it without the dairy group, sigh. And I ate ALL my extra crisp down home chicken skin tonight (gotta come try the fried chicken at Stroud's in Kansas City; I indulge myself about once a year.)

              10 Replies
              1. re: Lynne Hodgman

                I definitely fall into the Lynne camp--like them both, and quite often simultaneously, or in succession. Lately my snacks have been Japanese rice crackers with both soy sauce and sugar on them, and dark chocolate-covered orange peel (well, it's not salty, but it's bitter). I guess I'm an exception to berkeleybabe's less-sweets-after-30. The only thing I find myself less likely to eat is milk chocolate--used to like it, now will generally reject it in favor of the bitter stuff.

                In Japan, there's a definite belief in either salty or sweet, with alcohol falling into the salty camp, so you hear people saying things like "I don't like sweets because I love drinking." That line just doesn't exist for me... (g) In fact, I frequently find myself craving ice cream after a night of beer drinking.

                1. re: Rachel M.

                  And I crave ice cream after eating Chinese food -- in fact after Chinese food is one of the few times I do crave ice cream (not that I don't like ice cream, but I don't *crave* it, and I'm not one of those people who considers a pint of Ben & Jerry's to be a "single-serving" size).

                  I like sweet/salty combos, too. Anyone else like potato chips and sweetened condensed milk, or is that too shameful to admit?

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    I was going to finish reading the thread before I responded to anything, but I was SHOCKED to read that you have the same craving that I do! Most nights I am happy with a salty bedtime snack (I am salt-over-sweet most of the time, and have to admit that I eat WAY too much microwave popcorn), but after eating at our favorite Chinese restaurant, I MUST go home and eat ice cream! Usually vanilla with Hershey's chocolate syrup. Ice cream is the only sweet that I ever crave.

                    Back to the point of the thread; I don't like cookies, cake, pastries very much unless they're not too sweet. I prefer bittersweet chocolate; won't TOUCH milk chocolate. Yuck! And I also prefer savory breakfast -- whole wheat bagel with hummus!

                    I've always been a fan of salt -- I think I got it from my dad. He oversalted everything, never tasted for salt before dumping it on, and lived for potato chips and popcorn.

                    1. re: LisaPizza

                      Until this point, I just thought all the recipes were wrong, which is why I always cut down the sugar in sweet recipes by 1/4 to 1/3. But maybe it's just me and you.


                      1. re: ironmom
                        Caitlin McGrath

                        The recipes *are* wrong. I cut the sugar back, too. But that's what I grew up with, 'cause that's what my mom does. If I just wanted sugar, I could eat it straight. I want flavor!

                        My mom used to buy Hershey miniatures for Halloween, and sort out all the Special Darks to divide up among the family. I'm happy to say I converted my SO from a milk-chocolate lover to a bittersweet lover.

                        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                          One of my all-time favorite chocolates was a souvenir someone brought me from Japan. The label was entirely in Japanese, and it was supposed to have exceptionally high polyphenol levels, claiming things like "good for you" in the text. It was intense, and not at all sweet, but not all that bitter, either.

                    2. re: Ruth Lafler
                      Lynne Hodgman

                      Oh my gosh, I am not a huge ice cream fan either and I just realized the ONLY time I crave it is after Chinese food! (Unless it happens to be Italian gelato, which is a few planes above ice cream, anyway!)

                      Ice cream is almost a MUST after Chinese food. I wish Chinese restaurants had green tea ice cream. Usually have that after Japanese if it is available.

                      In Los Altos, CA, we always followed dinner at Chef Chu's with ice cream ("small" hot fudge sunday on coffee ice cream) at Rick's Rather Rich; which was wonderful and probably no longer there...

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler
                        Michele Cindy

                        When I go to the movies I eat popcorn with extra butter and salt, take a bite, then bite a hershey bar, then eat more popcorn. It's a great combo.

                        1. re: Michele Cindy
                          Caitlin Wheeler

                          I have dipped microwave butter popcorn into hot fudge topping. It's delicious.

                          I also have a great salmon recipe that involves coating the salmon in mustard, salt, sugar, cumin and cinnamon, then searing and serving with a sauce of hot mustard mixed with sugar. It's delicious.

                          1. re: Michele Cindy

                            Popcorn (extra butter and salt) and chocolate is my ultimate sweet/salty combo. But I dump some plain M&M's in with the warm popcorn - they get a little gooey, and also get slightly coated with butter and salt. My favorite movie indulgence.

                    3. Great post, I'm really enjoying this thread...

                      I think you really see this dividing line at the breakfast table. I cringe at the idea of donuts, muffins, or fruit cream cheese on a bagel.

                      But a lot of my friends turn green when I offer to make a plate of bacon and fried potatoes for a sunday breakfast.

                      That said, my current favorite breakfast is a mixture of the two. saute some finely chopped beef jerky with an egg or two, and chase it with a very small glass of egg nog. (I know, I'm sick).

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: ben f
                        Caitlin Wheeler

                        I love desserts, and I love salt. I CANNOT eat anything sweet for breakfast (an exception being peanut butter and a little jam on toast, but it HAS to be whole wheat toast). Yesterday I had a cheese and chutney sandwich for breakfast, but I've been eating Laughing Cow Cheese on Toast.

                        The more I think about it, the less I like sweets, but I LOVE desserts. I don't like muffins, or pancakes, or peanut butter sandwiches for any meal except breakfast, but I love pies and cakes and cookies and custards. They can't be too sweet, though. I can't eat Italian pastries.

                        As for salt, I salt everything (sea salt) and I love smoked salmon, pickles, salted soft pretzels, Dashi, you name it.

                        1. re: Caitlin Wheeler

                          Cheese and chutney sandwich sounds good to me, what kind of chutney?

                          I like pancakes, but only if I make them. That means the batter has no sugar in it, bacon fat is the cooking medium, and only butter, (and for this one dish I prefer salted butter) never syrup.


                          1. re: ben f

                            I know you're asking Caitlin but I will throw in mine: mine was roasted tomato chutney (I know, sounds weird but it's surprisingly great) with feta. On an English muffin half last night - all wrong, but it was the only bread in the house.

                            1. re: Jill D.
                              Caitlin Wheeler

                              Ah, Jill. I am more of a purist. I usually eat extra sharp cheddar cheese with Major Grey's Mango chutney. (This is especially good on HobNobs, a British wheaty cookie/biscuit, if you can find them). Lately, however, I have been eating Branston pickle with extra sharp cheddar. It's good on cream cheese too.

                              1. re: Caitlin Wheeler

                                The English hub is a cheese-and-chutney specialist, so we run the gamut. Among the faves are:

                                Cheddar and Patak's Brinjal pickle
                                Cheddar, onion, and Branston Pickle
                                Ham or cheddar (not both) with cherry tomato-jalepeno chutney (homemade)

                          2. re: Caitlin Wheeler

                            Hi - I am from over on the Bay Area board. Caitlin, I could have written that post. I had a cheese and chutney sandwich for dinner last night (well, as a dinner supplement - went to a work party, was buffet, had my kid with me, did more kid care than eating, was still hungry).

                            I am a both person but NOT in the morning. I feel woozy and weird if I have too much sweet or carbs in the morning.

                            The one part of your post that isn't me is salting everything. Well, hmmm, maybe I do. I have a pretty free hand with the sea salt in the kitchen, but I do try to taste first and add as needed if it's not a clearly integral thing already. But I usually think it needs!

                            I love desserts - don't like too sweet either. I love chocolate and sometimes it is just the thing, but not always. Am more of a caramel person as a default. Am picky about fruit desserts (not fruit as dessert, that's great, but fruit in dessert). Don't like fruit ice cream at all (will make exception for summertime homemade peach or strawberry ice cream, and have had burnt orange ice cream that pretty much sent me over the moon with delight - but then that's caramelly. But I digress). Have come to the conclusion that if fruit is in dessert and it's the main note not a competing note - or if it's well balanced and not just there for color or uniqueness - and if it's fresh and in season, then it's fine.

                            1. re: Caitlin Wheeler
                              Lynne Hodgman

                              Low-fat Laughing Cow on English muffin is one of my favorite breakfasts. Sweets don't much appeal at breakfast. But I love eggs any time of the day!

                          3. I seem to be one of the freaks who run straight down the center of the divide. I crave both and many times simultaneously. For as long as I can remember, one of my favorite snacks have been chocolate donuts and potato chips (Entemmans and Lays). They seem to balance the salty/sweet thing perfectly. I really like sweets, but don't seem to crave it as others do. And I always seem to end the night with a little savory item (usually leftovers) even after having dessert. My favorite is the late night raid on the fridge after thanksgiving dinner. As for the issue of changing tastes with maturity, I don't see that in my case. I've enjoyed things like umeboshi (those sour japanese pickled plums) or the salted dried plums, or the dried cuttlefish, all from a very early age. Go figure.

                            1. s

                              I'm probably a salt, altho I do well with the sweets, too. But what I really have is a fat tooth! Fried, with butter, extra mayo - it is appalling how much I enjoy the fattier things in life. Anyone else share this affliction/addiction?