I think the first combination of sweet and salty that I tasted was a chocolate-covered pretzel. It sure was good. Interestingly, the English language lacks a word for something that's both sugary and salty.
The five basic tastes that a person can pick up on are sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and savoury/umami. People always thought the tongue was divided into little subdivisions, that only sensed one individual flavour. Apparently it turns out the whole tongue can taste all five flavours. Sugar and salt usually signal a food that is either calorie- or nutrient-dense, while bitterness or sourness could signal a food that might make you sick.
The tastiness of sugar and salt in combination might merely be down to a layering effect: the combination of the delight of one delicious flavour (salt!) with another delicious flavour (sugar!), yielding a delight two times greater than either one alone.
Salt certainly enhances the flavour in food and desserts -- no question. Too much salt with the sugar can, however, taste just ghastly.
In the cookie recipe below, the sprinkling of salt on top creates the perfection. Serve with a glass of milk or a nice strong coffee. Heaven!
Salted Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
(yields 16 to 18 large cookies, or makes smaller bite-size ones)
310 ml (1 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
125 ml (1/2 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
5 ml (1 tsp) baking powder
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) baking soda
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
125 ml (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
187 ml (3/4 cup) smooth peanut butter
166 ml (2/3 cup) brown sugar
83 ml (1/3 cup) sugar
10 ml (2 tsp) vanilla extract
250 ml (1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips
125 ml (1/2 cup) peanuts, roughly chopped
Coarse salt for sprinkling
1. Heat the oven to 350 F (180 C ). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.
3. Beat together the butter, peanut butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the side of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract. Scrape the bowl. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low until just combined. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips and peanuts.
4. Drop 2 heaping tablespoonfuls of dough onto the baking sheet, spacing the cookies about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle a small pinch of coarse salt on top of each cookie. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the outside of the cookies are set but the middles are still a little soft. Cool cookies on the baking sheets. Store in an airtight container.