Salty and sweet are distinct tastes which our taste buds are able to detect. But add some salt to pineapple and you’ll notice something strange — it doesn’t taste salty at all. In fact, the pineapple seems to taste sweeter when the salt is added than it does otherwise. What’s going on here? Just some neat kitchen chemistry.
Bitterness — another taste we can pick up on — and sweetness cancel each other out to some degree. One of the reasons it makes sense to add sugar to your coffee is because coffee naturally is bitter, and by doing so, you end up countering the bitterness more than anything else. And in this case, what’s true for coffee is also true for pineapples. Kind of.
Pineapples are inherently sweet but also have some bitterness to them. If we can neutralize the bitterness, it would follow that the pineapple would taste sweeter. Salt does exactly this. Salt, as any 8th grade science student can tell you, is NaCl — sodium chloride. And when it mixes with the pineapple, the salt splits up into sodium and chloride ions. The chloride is tasteless (and harmless in those amounts — or, no more harmful than it would be as salt) and our tongues ignore it. The sodium, on the other hand, bonds with the acids in the pineapple and forms a similarly tasteless salt once again. In doing so, the acids in the pineapple “disappear” from our tastebuds, and the bitterness goes with them.
All that’s left is the sweet-tasting sugars found in the fruit, and, with nothing to counteract that, these sugars take over. The salt doesn’t make the pineapple sweeter — at least not directly — but simply less bitter. Our palates aren’t nuanced enough to detect the difference.
Double bonus!: Yes, that picture above is how pineapples actually grow.
From the Archives: Schtroumpf: It’s about salt. Kind of.
Related: Pineapple salt and pepper shakers. Just make sure you grab the right one when eating actual pineapples.