In the world of dining etiquette, some rules are a bit more finicky than others. While improperly using utensils is an obvious faux pas, other tenets, such as salting prior to tasting, are less clear. Even a basic day-long cooking class might not tell you the answer.
However, although adding a pinch of salt to a dish after tasting is usually considered acceptable, doing so before might earn you some dirty looks. As you'll learn in any culinary course, many chefs carefully balance seasonings, so naturally, they may be offended if people jump to the salt right away. However, not every meal you eat will be hand-prepared by a trained chef, so what should you do?
Gastronomical scientists often consider salt to be a universal way to improve flavor. In France, many popular foods, such as salted butter, contain a decent amount of it. Many baking recipes call for a small amount because, at low concentrations, salt reduces bitterness while enhancing the sweet, umami, or sour tastes. Larger amounts of sodium, however, suppress sweet tastes and enhance umami flavors, so savory dishes often contain larger concentrations.
A bit of salt is an essential component of daily nutrition and helps to keep your system clear. However, eating too much can have a number of negative consequences on both your meal and your health. Anything too salty will not taste good, and a high-sodium diet can seriously raise your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Therefore, while salt makes a great seasoning, it should be used sparingly in accordance with your meal.
Because it's such a universal condiment, knowing when to salt or not can be a difficult decision. However, as a general rule, you should try to at least take a bite before since there's no way of knowing how much salt is already in the ingredients. Here are some helpful rules to help you decide whether to keep your dish unsalted:
If the restaurant has salt and pepper shakers on the table, then odds are, no one will mind you altering your meal other than the others at your table.
Different rules apply at different eateries. You're not expected to put a napkin in your lap at McDonald's, nor must you leave your meal unaltered to avoid offending the teenage fry cook in the back. However, at a nice restaurant, you should very rarely alter your meal in the first place - let alone prior to tasting it.
Perhaps the only time that you can openly salt is at breakfast. Because this meal usually only involves staples like bread and eggs, the meals you receive are far more simple, and most establishments don't automatically salt eggs-over-easy.
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