One of the most common topics that attendees of our Sound Food Uprising Workshop want to know all about is salt. “What kind of salt should I use?” “Is sea salt healthy?” “Why is Himalayan salt pink?” “Don’t we need iodine?” “Should I be worried about getting too much salt?” The list of questions goes on and on.
To start, let’s talk about what this stuff is. All salt is made up of two essential nutrients: sodium and chloride (in an approximate 55 to 45 percent ratio, respectively). All salt came, at some point in time, from the sea. Our bodies need salt to maintain proper fluid balance, transmit nerve impulses, contract muscles, and to prevent low blood pressure.
Of course, too much salt has the opposite effect, causing blood pressure to skyrocket; this puts extra strain on the cardiovascular system. Most Americans are quite familiar with this threat, causing them to be wary of their salt shaker at home. Fortunately, this fear is largely unwarranted. Over 70% of the sodium intake in the average American diet is actually from the salt that is added to processed foods. Due to its multitude of uses – from a flavor enhancer, to preservative, to a thickener and stabilizer – it is often added in staggering amounts. Want to cut back on sodium? Simply reduce your intake of processed foods.
So now to the question – what type of salt are you supposed to use at home? The answer: just about anything other than iodized.
Morton Iodized Salt: $0.05/ounce
Iodized salt has been a popular American seasoning staple since the 1920’s. This nutrient was added to salt as a result of a vast iron deficiency in the northern regions of the United States (at one time, 26-70% of children were suffering from goiter). However, due to the current availability of a variety of foods, most people today get sufficient iodine from fish, dairy products, sea vegetables and grains; supplementation is largely unnecessary as long as you eat a diverse diet.
Unfortunately, iodized salt is rarely just salt + iodine. Table salt may contain fluoride or folate as added minerals, dextrose (a sugar) to stabilize the iodine, and a variety of anti-caking agents (about 2%) such as sodium aluminosilicate, magnesium oxide, and silicon dioxide. The salt is also bleached to give it that homogenous white appearance.
While we don’t encourage the consumption of unnecessary ingredients, the real insult of iodized salt comes from the flavor. Due to the additives – and the iodine itself – iodized salt can have a metallicy “off” flavor. Additionally, since its crystals are small and compact, there is more “saltiness” in a pinch of table salt that dissolves much quicker in food, increasing the potential for over-salting your dishes.
Instead of iodized, reach for kosher, sea salt, or rock salt. Finishing salts are also great to have on hand to add that extra flourish.
Diamond Crystal: $0.05/ounce
Kosher salt earns its name not necessarily because of Jewish dietary guidelines, but because it is perfect to use in the koshering process of drawing blood from meat; the crystals are quite large, which attracts more moisture. These larger crystals also taste less salty and are more pinch-able, making it easier to control the amount that goes in your food and to see where you’ve added it. We recommend keeping a small bowl of kosher salt next to your stove to pinch from – you have so much more control of seasoning your food this way than by using an inconsistent salt shaker. Just make sure to buy the same brand of kosher salt each time; this way you will know exactly the salty punch that your “pinch” will deliver.
Eden French Celtic Sea Salt: $0.28/oz
Sea salt is made by evaporating ocean water into various sized and shaped crystals. Unrefined sea salt is unwashed and contains trace amount of minerals such as magnesium, potassium and calcium, as well as algae and benign marine bacteria. The addition of these components may lead to a more complex yet pure flavor. Look for sea salt that naturally contains a variety of colored specks (browns and blacks and pinks) – these are the minerals – and that is slightly moist to the touch.
Pink Rock Salt
Sherpa Pink Himalayan Salt: $0.27/ounce
Most Himalayan salt comes from the Khewra Salt Mine in the Punjab region of Pakistan; these salt veins formed millions of years ago when ancient seabeds were pushed inland and dried to form rocks. Today, water is used to dissolve the rock, and this brine is then evaporated to collect the salt. Like sea salt, rock salt will contain trace amounts of potassium, magnesium and calcium, though not quite enough to provide significant health benefits. It is, however, minimally processed, and looks pretty on a plate.
$0.65/ounce – $3.00/ounce
Fleur de Sel, Sel Gris, or Maldon are used to finish a completed recipe; due to their large crispy flakes, they add a visual appeal as well as flavor and a crunchy texture. These salts are expensive since they are usually harvested by hand from salt marshes or ponds in France and England. Fortunately, since a mere pinch is added at the end of a dish, they are used sparingly. Your chocolate chip cookies will never be the same.