Salt has been one of the most vilified substances in the world of food. Too much of it can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. There is way too much of it in processed foods. It can cause water retention and bloating. These things can be true, but there can be an even greater danger in not getting enough salt.
Salt is also an important seasoning tool that puts the finishing touch on most dishes. I need to watch how much salt I put in my food so I try to boost flavors with other spices, but I am also careful about the quality of salt I use in my recipes.
Salt is getting some new notoriety today with all kinds of gourmet touches, but it also has a great history. Salt has been so valuable through the ages that early civilizations once used it as currency. Even the word “salary” comes from the word for salt.
What we call table salt today is mainly mined from underground salt deposits. Then it’s heavily processed, which results in the elimination of healthy minerals. The table salt we are most familiar with is manufactured by taking natural salt and heating it to 1,200˚ F. This process causes the chemical composition to be completely altered, and virtually all of the nutritional benefits are destroyed.
There are more than a dozen food additives that are allowed in generic table salt. It ends up consisting of about 97.5 percent sodium chloride and a 2.5 of the other allowed ingredients including:
The Sea Salt Difference
All salt originates from the sea, either from ancient seas or one of our modern oceans. Salts that are not “sea salt” come from underground deposits left behind by seawater at some point.
What we know as sea salt is the result of evaporation of fresh seawater. This is accomplished by either open-air solar evaporation or by a more rapid vacuum evaporation process. Many of the solar processed sea salts fetch a premium price. With sea salt that is minimally processed, you’re getting trace amounts of essential minerals with distinctive flavors and qualities that can provide interesting flavors to foods.
Why Is Sea Salt Better?
You’re familiar with unrefined sugar, right? Well, sea salt is salt that is unrefined. Depending on where and how the salt is harvested, sea salts will have different flavors, textures and colors. Along with providing important trace minerals, doctors who practice functional medicine believe sea salt provides many benefits to health and well-being because it:
What Types of Sea Salt Are Available?
Himalayan Sea Salt – Collected far from any ocean, it’s believed that this salt is composed of the dried remnants of the Earth’s original primal sea. The crystals are a beautiful, translucent color ranging from pale pink to deep salmon and are said to contain all of the 84 elements found in the body.
Celtic Sea Salt®— This salt is harvested the same way it has been for 2,000 years in Brittany, France near the Celtic Sea. It shares many of the healthful properties of Himalayan salt. It’s a grayish color and no matter how it is stored, retains a moist, sandy feel.
Fleur de Sel — French for “flower of salt,” this sea salt is named for its flower-shaped crystals. Harvesting fleur de sel is very labor intensive. It’s collected into salt pans that allow wind to evaporate the water and create a delicate crust that is then raked by hand. Prized by chefs as a finishing salt rather than an ingredient, it has a higher mineral and moisture content and a more delicate, less salty flavor than most salts.
Flake Sea Salt – Its thin flattened crystals provide more surface area with less mass, which makes flake salt dissolve faster. It can be saltier and have fewer trace minerals than other sea salts.
Hawaiian Sea Salt — This salt gets its rusty-red color from alae, the natural volcanic clay that adds a bit of iron oxide to the salt.
At this year’s Natural Products Expo West, we saw a number of companies that offered interesting salts that will enhance your cooking. San Francisco Salt Co., which is a “purveyor of fine sea salts,” offers gourmet cooking salts including Black Truffle, Cyprus Flake, Irish Kiln Dried, Hickory Smoked, Lavender Rosemary and dozens more flavors and textures from fine to coarse. We also saw an old “friend,” Gustus Vitae, Artisan Sea Salts and Spice Blends. We’ve stopped by their booth in the past to sample their sea salt blends such as Dijon Mustard, Indian Tandoori, Green Tea, Wasabi and Chipotlé. We also saw a cooking demonstration of steak on a slab of pink Himalayan rock salt at the Himalayan Chef booth. Chatting with them reminded us that this cooking utensil is billions of years old. I use a slab of Himalayan salt for my Beef on a Salt Block recipe from my Aging Beautifully Cookbook. I heat the block in the oven, set it on a trivet on the dining room table and let my guests cook their own meat. Now that’s a memorable dinner party!