Does it Insult the Cook if You Salt Food on Your Plate?

Source: American Cookery (April, 1918)

Oh, dear – When friends invite me to their homes for dinner I often put salt on the food that they serve. Now I’m worried that I may have insulted them. Sometimes hundred-year-old magazines answer questions that I had never considered.

45 thoughts on “Does it Insult the Cook if You Salt Food on Your Plate?

  1. I was certainly brought up that it was insulting to the provider of the meal to add salt. I’m less careful about this now, but I wouldn’t dream of adding any before I’d tasted the food.

    1. I don’t remember this ever being discussed when I was a child, but I think that if there were salt and paper shakers on the table, that it was considered acceptable to use them.

    1. Sometimes I put salt and pepper shakers on the table; other times I don’t. For example, if I made a roast. I’d slice it before serving, but won’t season it. I would then set the shakers out, so that each individual could season as desired.

  2. A teaspoon of salt for every pint? Yikes, that will send your BP soaring! I’ve always undersalted my cooking since my husband is on a low salt diet, so always inform guests of that and offer the salt shaker. And I’m with Ronit, one should taste the food before salting as you would never know the seasoning level unless you made it yourself.

    1. Tasting the food first is what I was taught, too. In my family, was considered insulting to season before tasting but okay if you tried it first and needed a little extra flavor.

      I have no idea what the general etiquette is for this issue, though!

    2. I’m often surprised how much salt is called for in old recipes, and sometimes reduce the amount of salt when I update the hundred-year-old recipes. I’m not quite sure why they used so much salt back then. It doesn’t seem healthy – and it doesn’t even taste good.

      1. Perhaps it was because they worked so much harder, physically? You know, no running water, no central heating, etc … they must have sweated it out of their systems ; )

  3. What an interesting find! I agree with the author that salt is not a necessity! I prefer less salt and also watch my sodium count very closely. I cringe when I see people in restaurants grab the shaker and shake and shake and shake. I remember that my father immediately salted and peppered everything before he ate and he wanted to do the same to my food, but I always protested until he finally stopped.

    I don’t think it is rude to salt food at someone else’s home and I usually tell guests that they will need to add salt since I cook with minimal! It’s about personal preference, but I would say taste the food first.

  4. I gave up salt almost 60 years ago now when I was pregnant with my first child and haven’t added it to anything since. Everything tastes so much better without it. Also, this week I sat next to a man who had to pick and choose carefully at the buffet because he has to eliminate salt in his diet, having been a heavy salter. OK. Now I’ll stop sounding like a recovered smoker talking to someone with a cigarette in her mouth and just say, I’m not the least bit insulted if someone adds salt to the food I’ve prepared, assuming they’ve tasted it first. If they add it before tasking, I can only wonder if they might no tend up with too much salt sometimes.

  5. Salt is a matter of personal preference, and I think it is totally fine to add salt at the table if the food is tasted first. And I am dismayed if a dish already has too much salt.

    1. Since different people have different preferences regarding salt, it seems like it’s a better practice when cooking to use a bit less salt than might be optimal to avoid making it too salty for some people’s tastes. People who want more salt can always add it at the table.

  6. In Japan the cook tends to think it is rude to add salt on their dishes before we eat and even after we taste. My mother didn’t let our family add salt to her dishes because she thought too much salt would not be good for us and also we should pay our respects to the cook who served his/her best dishes. In my opinion, it’s okay to add if there are salt and pepper shakers on the table because the cook expects that. However we should taste before we add salt or pepper.

    1. It’s interesting that cooks often consider it rude to add salt in Japan. Adding salt apparently can be a faux pas on both sides of the Pacific. I tend to think similarly to you – that’s it’s okay to add salt or pepper if there are shakers on the table.

  7. This was a delicate topic when I was a child. My mother was an excellent cook, but her father, my grandpa, would shake oodles of salt onto the food she cooked– before he tasted it. She would be miffed, I’d be confused because I wasn’t allowed to do that, and my father would try to change the dinner table conversation to a less controversial topic.

  8. I always put salt and pepper on the table – it doesn’t insult me. Something I was used to with my parents (both good cooks) would always leave S&P on table. that said, a lot of restaurants would do good to heed the advice of not putting too much salty seasonings on their foods because the “constant use blunts the taste!” No matter where we go out to eat there is seasoning on everything even where there is no need for any. It ruins the taste of the food. My parents would say a good cook has no need for all that extra seasonings and flavorings, you only want to add enough to enhance the food.

    1. I also notice that restaurants often use way too much salt. For some reason, soups often seem to be particularly salty. It doesn’t make sense to me.

  9. Switching gears a bit, where I’m always out to sea is in regards to gravy. I don’t like gravy and I won’t use it. That baffles people who like it and you practically have have to wrestle the ladle out of their hands before they flood your plate with gravy. My daughter is that way with butter. She just doesn’t like it and won’t use it on anything, which doesn’t stop people from trying to have her butter things.

    Mayonnaise is another one. I absolutely can’t stand it (its disgusting) and would rather not eat at all than eat something that its on. No matter, people don’t believe that and therefore if they go order sandwiches, even if you said hold the mayo, you’re likely to end up with a mayo sandwich.

    “Season to taste”, they say, but everyone’s tastes are a little different.

    1. This brings back memories of my school days. I can remember school cafeteria workers “ruining” my entire lunch by dumping gravy over everything. I once asked a worker to skip putting gravy on my plate. She replied that it was required, and dipped a larger than usual amount on my food.

  10. I like when food isn’t so salty,as is it easy to add salt to your liking. I do agree that one should try the food before salting.

  11. I’m terrible about this–I love salt and will stand in the junk food aisle and look at nutrition labels, to find the pretzels with the most salt! So, if salting offends people, I am guilty!

  12. My husband doesn’t taste first, he just salts everything. I find myself telling people that I either did or didn’t add salt to the dish and they can adjust accordingly.

    1. Janet, i do the same. I use little salt when I cook, though I use plenty of other seasoning. I often mention that such and such dish might need salt, but try it first.

  13. Just want to add my two cents: like most, S&P were always on our table. Add what you like. However, we now have a chef in the family, and she gets upset if you don’t -first- taste! After that, she doesn’t mind!

  14. I never add salt to anything and always leave it out when baking, too. But now, after reading this, I realize I’ve been rude in an opposite way. I can’t remember the last time I put salt & pepper shakers on the table when entertaining—uh oh. I do like restaurant food to be lightly salted, but every once in a great while we’ll get a meal that will have way too much salt. As everyone stated, we’ve all got different taste buds and health needs!

    1. That’s a really good point. If a cook doesn’t use much salt when cooking, salt and pepper shakers probably should be put on the table when entertaining. There are a lot of considerations when it comes to the proper etiquette for salting food.

    1. It’s a horrendous amount of salt. One thing that I’ve noticed about hundred-year-old recipes is that they often tend to call for more salt than would be typical in modern recipes. The amount of salt is the thing that I’m most likely to adjust when updating a recipe for modern cooks.

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