Salt is an essential in the kitchen for so many reasons; it helps to flavor food, crisp food, and even bring out the sweet notes in desserts. But, little did you know, there is a wrong way and right way to use this go-to spice. Mainly? The timing in which you use it.

When you’re seasoning food that you’re cooking, do you add salt before, during or after cooking? Well, the timing actually makes a big difference in the flavor of your foods!

America’s Test Kitchen decided to do a little testing to find what actually is the best time to add salt to your cooking. The answer might not be all that surprising to any seasoned chefs.

For their test recipe, ATK whipped up two batches of beef stew. One used salt at the start of the recipe; the carrots are coated with salt and then roasted, beef is given a salt rub and then cooked, and salt is added to the broth at the start. In the other recipe, salt is used at the end; the carrots and meat are roasted before being salted, and salt is added to the broth after it’s been cooked.

The results were unanimous.

When salt was added to the stew at the end of each step, everything tasted unbearably salty. The meat in the stew was much tougher, and the broth was also too salty to enjoy.

Conversely, when salt was added early in cooking, the carrots were perfectly roasted and the beef was extremely tender. Both were flavored to perfection throughout, as was the broth.

It’s clear that salting FIRST has the best results, but why is that?

Well, it al comes down to the fact that salt tends to penetrate cold foods slowly. A previous experiment found that it takes about 24 hours for salt to get to the center of a cold turkey, and the seasoning penetrates vegetables at an even slower pace. Salting at the beginning gives it time to diffuse into the pieces of food, seasoning them throughout. However, seasoning at the end only creates a more superficial flavor that immediately hits your tongue.

For the best, most even flavor and texture, make sure to add salt at the start of your recipe. Don’t add too much though, as consuming excessive salt can raise your body’s sodium levels and cause a medley of health issues down the road.