A bit tired after two VERY late nights, coming in after 1 am, which for those of you who know me is practically unheard of, I'm staring bleary-eyed at the screen trying to decide whether I can write something coherent. Anyways, you've been duly warned.... ;-)
Starbucks has a series of specialty hot chocolate drinks this year, one of which is garnished with salt. Yes, you read that correctly: SALT. (A friend of mine thinks this is a new fad with chocolate drinks.) I have to admit, I was not repulsed when I read it on the menu; I was intrigued. Not in the mood for chocolate the first day I read about it, I was eager to return some other evening and test it out. I finally got my chance last night. After strolling around downtown for a few hours in the evening, checking out the 2nd Saturday art galleries, we were both thirsty and chilled so we stopped into a Starbucks to recharge our batteries. I decided to go for gold and try out the Salted Caramel Signature Hot Chocolate. (Don't look at the nutrition value like I just did. It's depressing.) The flavor was rather shocking. Salty and sweet together always invoke a funny sensation on the taste buds. But if you've ever had the Chex Mix with M&Ms or a trail mix with chocolate, this really isn't that different.
What first came to mind upon tasting it was a sweet pastry with chocolate filling, like a Pain au Chocolat. I mean, when we bake cookies, cakes, etc. we use salt in the recipe, don't we? Sweet with salt isn't unheard of.
Several people had remarked to me that they thought the salt brought out the other flavors. It certainly doesn't stand out in this drink and scream 'SEA (CHOCOLATE) WATER!' or anything. Although, apparently, it is sea salt on top and sugar produced from Hawaiian cane....
I know that salt affects the baking process when cooking pastries and such. But, more importantly, studies show it does enhance the flavor of foods. And better still, it supresses undesirable flavors! Scientists say it is one of the reasons that people have a hard time going on low-sodium diets. You are then forced to put up with all the undesirables in the gastronomic world. Bummer. (Here is an experiment you can do testing out the effect of salt combined with sweet and bitter tastes on your taste buds.)
Thus, really, it is ingenious to top a delicious drink with salt if it causes the taste buds to further rejoice in the flavor!
On the other hand, it just occurred to me that one of the reasons pre-packaged/canned foods are so high in sodium is probably because they are trying to capitalize on the little good there is while masking the preservatives. That is not a happy thought.
Back to the hot chocolate...
We passed the drink around (probably spreading a bajillion germs). Many noticed the buttery taste of the caramel. One of my friends said that it reminded her of Popcorn Jelly Bellys. (Yuck. Those things are nasty!)
All in all, I thought it tasted okay. I don't know that I would go for it again but it isn't so much the salt that turns me off, rather the buttery, caramel taste. Shame on you, salt, for bringing out that flavor. Too bad we can't pick and choose which flavors to accent....