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Why Does Adding Salt To A Melon Make It Taste Sweeter?

How come when you put salt on a melon, the melon seems sweeter? Then if you put more salt on, the melon turns salty?

watermelon cut and lined up

Photo: Kirti Poddar (flickr)

Adding salt to a melon can make it taste sweet.

Okay, time once again for the A Moment of Science mail bag,

Dear A Moment of Science: How come when I put salt on a melon, the melon seems sweeter? Then if I put more salt on, the melon turns salty? Sincerely, David.

Well, David, the answer to your question lies in the nature of melons.

Inside The Melon

Unless we look at a piece of melon under a microscope, we can’t see that it’s actually made up of many thousands of tiny cells. These cells have what are called “semi-permeable membranes”. That means that water can go into the cells or it can come back out again.

For the purposes of today’s discussion you can think of these cells as little water packets.

Salty To Sweet

Now one of the things that salt does is in effect to draw water toward itself. If you have a region of high salt concentration next to one of low salt concentration, the water from the low-salt concentration area will move over to the high-salt area.

By sprinkling a little salt on your melon you are creating a high-salt concentration area next to those cells. Their water is drawn up to the surface where you bite, bringing flavor with it. The melon has become miraculously sweeter thanks to salt! Add too much, however, and the taste of the salt itself will overpower the effect, and it will taste salty.

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