You can't neutralize salt in food at the chemical level, but there are many ways to remedy over-salted food so that each bite isn't an assault on your taste buds. The best solution to your seasoning crisis depends on the food that you are preparing and the ingredients you have on hand.
By disguising the mistake with other key flavors, and creating a balance with the rest of the flavors on the table, you can save the over-seasoned food, as well as the time and money you invested in making it.
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Neutralize Salt in Food
The most effective way to improve over-salted food is to double the recipe but omit the salt from the second batch. The addition of unsalted food stretches the salt, reducing its concentrations. An increase in total volume distributes the salt across twice as much food, effectively cutting the amount of salt in each serving by half.
In some cases, you can increase the volume of one ingredient instead of doubling the whole recipe. You can fix an over-salted soup by adding salt-free stock or water. Extra meat or vegetables also diminishes the intensity of salt in soup.
This method will also decrease the amount of sodium per serving. According to the American Heart Association, the daily maximum intake of sodium for healthy adults is 2,300 milligrams.
Adding extra meat can go a long way to help you reach your daily recommended intake for protein — 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women, according to the National Academies of Sciences.
Trick Your Tongue With Fat
Fat effectively balances the taste of over-salted food by coating the taste buds, preventing your tongue from tasting salt, as Guy Crosby Ph.D., CFS, Adjunct Associate Professor of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health explained to Serious Eats. If the over-salted dish already contains dairy, add more of the dairy-based ingredient. For example, if you have salty broccoli cheese soup, add more milk or cream.
For foods to which dairy can't be added, such as barbecue dry rub, a dairy-based sauce or side dish may diminish the salty taste, if the saltiness is minimal. For example, serve creamy potato salad with over-salted ribs.
As you alternate between bites of the potato salad and ribs, the sour cream in the side dish will minimize the too-salty dry rub on your main course.
Try a Sweet Solution
A small amount of sugar offsets salt by essentially distracting your taste buds, according to Exploratorium. If your tongue detects salt and sugar, your taste buds have to divide their attention, so to speak, making them less aware of the salt. Add a pinch of sugar at a time to avoid over-sweetening the dish.
Incorporate the sugar thoroughly, then taste the food to see if the flavors have a better balance. Sugar is the most versatile salt-inhibiting ingredient. It can solve minor over-salting in soups, sauces, dry rubs and seasoning blends, as well as prepared foods such as mashed potatoes and baked goods.
Add a Little Acid
Like sugar, acid can distract your taste buds from tasting all of the salt in food. Citric acid and vinegar are common cooking acids that are on hand in most kitchens. Incorporate the acid directly into the over-seasoned food, if it suits the dish. For example, if you over-salt barbecue sauce, mix a little apple cider vinegar into the sauce to subdue the saltiness.
Alternatively, baste the food with an acid as it cooks or garnish the food with an acidic ingredient before serving the dish. For example, to balance dry rub that's too salty, baste the over-seasoned meat with orange juice as it cooks.
Add acids or citrus to your dish just before eating it, as recommended by Mayo Clinic. To diminish the flavor of salt on over-seasoned fish, squeeze fresh lemon on the fish before eating it.
- American Heart Association: "How Much Sodium Should I Eat Per Day?"
- National Academies of Sciences: "Macronutrients"
- Mayo Clinic: "Healthy-Cooking Techniques: Boost Flavor and Cut Calories"
- Harvard School of Public Health: "Guy Crosby, Ph.D., CFS"
- Serious Eats: "Flavor Science: How We Taste Sweet, Sour, Salty, and More"
- Exploratorium: "The Science of Cooking: Dinner Fix-It Quiz"