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I read a short blurb in Cooking for Geeks that said vinegar can be used as a substitute for salt, as a flavor enhancer, to make food less bland. I plan on experimenting, but I don't know where to start.

From Cooking for Geeks:

We were reading Thomas Keller, and he talked about how salt is a flavor enhancer, and he mentioned that vinegar does a similar thing. It doesn't add a new taste, but it often alters the taste that's there.

What are the distinct advantages of using vinegar over salt as a flavor enhancer?

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5 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The advantage would be cutting some sodium out of your diet. If you are like many in the western part of the world, you probably get more than your daily allotment of sodium regularly. By making sure to cut sodium where you can, you gain the health benefits of a well-balanced diet.

Since salt is a flavor enhancer, a low-sodium diet can often seem bland. Many look for alternatives. Vinegar brings out flavors in a different way and adds a significant flavor of its own. I'd start small, using just a bit of vinegar.

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Keller wasn't implying that vinegar (and acids) is a substitute, just that it can be used to make things taste better- or more complex.

Sweetness and bitterness can also be used in this way.

We have taste buds for different kinds of things. When we taste these things we salivate more, this gives us enzymes that immediately react with the food ( to digest it), breaking down sugars and such.

The added moisture also makes us think the food is more moist ( think the squirt of saliva you get from eating a juicy salty cut of steak).

The moisture also dissolves more water soluble flavours, making us taste more of the food. Hence the food is tastier- a flavor enhancer.

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It's not about salt "over" vinegar. Salt and vinegar both enhance flavors. Acid, fat, salt, sweetness all help to balance the flavor of something. If something is to rich, cut it with a little vinegar and see what happens. Like with a red sauce. People often add a little sugar because it is too sour.

Please don't try to replace salt. Salt is amazing.

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Thomas Keller is amazing too. –  pferdefleisch Oct 17 '10 at 21:15
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Vinegar has a definite taste. It does also function as a flavour enhancer (like say, lemon juice), but it also has its own flavour. They are not simple substitutes.

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Well, the obvious one is that vinegar gives a sour taste, as opposed to a salty one.

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I'm not sure this is an advantage, although it is a definite difference. –  justkt Oct 17 '10 at 16:27
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