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It is from the book Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner:

She hated cilantro, avocados, and bell peppers. She was allergic to celery. She rarely ate sweets, with the exception of the occasional pint of strawberry Häagen-Dazs, a bag of tangerine jelly beans, one or two See’s chocolate truffles around Christmas time, and a blueberry cheesecake on her birthday. She rarely snacked or took breakfast. She had a salty hand.

I and the internet have no clue what it could possibly mean.

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  • Cambridge dictionary has its informal meanings of the word 'salty': dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/salty
    – Ahmed
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 11:59
  • None of the informal idiomatic meanings (angry, critical, coarse) are relevant to the cited usage (from a "marginally" Anglophone writer). Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 23:09

2 Answers 2

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The usage has no currency among native Anglophones, but a number of people have asked about it online. And I'm pretty sure they're all asking about the same source (Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner).

I picked these three posts out from the relevant Reddit page...

The phrase: “she has a salty hand” means to be a bit careful, not timid, but thinking of possible over-indulgence. You can have a “sweet hand” which would be an opposite.

Even with the context, it’s basically impossible to guess what “salty hand” means here.
We can tell that English is not the mother’s native language, and the author makes a point of explaining how she misspeaks and calls steaming hot “steamy hot.” [italics mine]
My guess is that “salty hand” is another misspoken expression. Maybe it’s apparent later what it means, maybe not.

Since the author was born in Korea and raised in Oregon by a Korean mother and American father, I suspect that "a salty hand" might be a hybrid-English phrase stemming from the expression "a heavy hand with the salt." If she heard this growing up, she might not even realize it is not a standard English expression, especially if it's use was re-enforced by other members of a non-native community.

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    Ultimately, only the author can tell what that could mean.
    – Ghost
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 11:42
  • Not necessarily - note the last sentence in my answer: ...especially if its use was re-enforced by other members of a non-native community. Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 11:51
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I interpret it in a very literal way.
She preferred salt over sweet: she favoured savoury, nourishing food, and steered away from confections and other foodstuffs of low nutritional value.

In fewer words: she preferred nourishment over flavour.

This idiom is probably the author's invention. Here is a Reddit thread with more people wondering about its meaning.

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  • Thanks. I have gone through that page before posting this question here in the hope getting a better explanation.
    – Ghost
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 11:01
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    I agree with your answer up to the colon, thereafter not so much. I don't understand why you identify savoury and nourishing. Have you never eaten a bucket of salted popcorn, nor pork scratchings, crisps, chips, many many savoury snacks which score very low on measures of nutritional value? Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 12:10
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    I'd say "she preferred salty to sugary" It might be the protagonist's mangling of the English idiom "a sweet tooth".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 13:51
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    'In a [very] literal way' must mean that there was a fair bit of salt detectable on her hand, Joachim. Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 13:53
  • @EdwinAshworth A very good point, thank you, Edwin. I'll make some edits.
    – Joachim
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 14:48

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