You’re probably familiar with “season to taste,” a common refrain at the end of recipes that reminds cooks to sample the food and adjust the seasonings—most often, the salt—as necessary before serving. But do you know about “season to temperature?”
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OK, I made up that last phrase, but the gist is that the serving temperature of food dramatically affects how seasoned it tastes. And the more extreme the temperature—whether piping hot or very chilled—the more salt you need. In fact, we ran an experiment to prove it. We divided a large batch of unsalted chicken broth into five portions and seasoned each with a different amount of salt—1, 2, 3, or 4 teaspoons, as well as a portion that we left unseasoned. Then we tasted each portion at three different temperatures: 180 degrees, 90 degrees, and 45 degrees.
The hot, lukewarm, and cold portions that contained equal amounts of salt tasted noticeably different from one another—over, under, or properly seasoned. For example: The broth with 3 teaspoons of salt tasted just right when steaming hot, but overly salty when it was lukewarm and under-seasoned once it had been chilled.
Why? Because the receptors through which taste buds signal to the brain that food tastes salty tend to be the most responsive at temperatures between 85 and 95 degrees—close to the temperature inside our mouths.
So the next time you’re seasoning food that is well above or below that range, follow these general guidelines: