Salt. Salt brings out the flavors of our food; it makes food taste alive and bright. Without it food would be bland and boring. Too much salt and the food is covered with something that’s pretty much unpalatable and there are no more flavors for us to taste except, well, salt. We’ve been told by the USDA that we need to consume less salt (sodium). So, we’re supposed to eat bland foods? I say no! Salt has been around since ancient times, and will continue to be around forever. Salt is extremely valuable, and I would feel lost without a pinch of salt in my foods.
Yet, we take for granted the salt crystals that make our foods tasty, so I thought I would do a little research into salt, and find out what makes this spice so important. What I didn’t know is just how much information there would be. There’s even an institute devoted to salt.
Where does salt come from? What is it?
Salt or sodium chloride is a mixture of about 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride.
Salt is currently produced by evaporating seawater (the more expensive method), or by mining rock salt (also called halite) from salt mines. Most of today’s salt is mined from large deposits left by dried salt lakes throughout the world.
Iodized salt is simply salt to which iodide (a form of iodine) has been added. Iodine is an essential element that we need to live, especially for proper functioning of the thyroid gland.
Iodine is found naturally in seawater, seaweeds, ocean fish, eggs, dairy, shellfish, and other sea life. Although iodine is found in seafood, sea salt doesn’t usually have any appreciable iodine in it, so you need to eat seafood or use iodized salt every once in awhile.
Kosher salt is not iodized. The salt used by commercial food manufacturers isn’t usually iodized either, so if you’re not getting other sources of iodine, you should be sure to use iodized salt. You can use iodized salt at the dinner table or mix it with your cooking salt; you don’t need much iodine from the salt to be safe.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of iodine is 150 mcg per day for adults over 19 years old. One gram of iodized salt* has 77 mcg’s of iodine. That means if you have 1 teaspoon of salt in a day you get about 508 mcg’s of iodine, and are well within your daily intake needs for iodine. You are also alright on the upper limit as well, as adults should stay under 1100 mcg’s per day. Take a look at the food sources chart from Oregon State University.
*1 teaspoon of salt equals about 6.6 grams, or 1/4 teaspoon of salt weighs about 1-1/2 grams.
Iodine deficiency can lead to health problems like goiters and cause mental development issues. It shows up most frequently in populations that don’t have access to saltwater or to the iodine-rich seafood living in the saltwater.
The thyroid helps regulate heart rate and metabolism, directing numerous vital body functions by releasing hormones, but the only way these hormones work is with the help of iodine. When levels of the mineral fall, the pituitary gland senses a shortage and begins working around the clock to generate a thyroid-stimulating hormone. Eventually the strain can cause the thyroid to swell into a goiter, but symptoms such as fatigue, depression, weight gain can occur well in advance.
Too much of a good thing?
If you have a normal weight, healthy blood pressure, are active, and eat minimally processed foods, salt shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, salt is required by the human body for regulation of fluid balance. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you prepare meals with fresh and minimally processed ingredients you’ve already eliminated up to 77 percent of the sodium in your diet.
The average American gets about 5 percent of total sodium intake from cooking, and about 6 percent of the total intake is added at the table. The last 12 percent occurs naturally in foods. The remaining 77 percent of our sodium intake is from processed foods! So even if homemade meals eliminated just half of the sodium the average American gets from processed foods, you should still be within the recommended upper limit. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Don’t exceed 2,300 mg of sodium a day if you’re a healthy adult (keep in mind that this is the upper limit).
Sodium is like a sponge. It soaks up water in your bloodstream, forcing the kidneys to release more fluid. Get enough of those sponges in your blood, and pretty soon the volume of fluid pumping through your circulatory system increases. Your heart and arteries feel the strain. Artery walls stretch; the heart muscle swells and enlarges as it works harder to move fluid through your blood vessels. This continues until something gives.
So, keep your sodium intake in check by eating mainly foods cooked at home made from minimally processed goods.
Salt in cooking:
Most recipes that call for salt are referring to table salt. However, many cooks prefer kosher salt for cooking because it is lighter in weight, dissolves more readily, and adheres to food better. Sea salt is often preferred for table use because it has a softer (less-harsh) flavor than table salt.
Salt preserves foods by creating a hostile environment for certain microorganisms. Salt dehydrates bacterial cells and inhibits bacterial growth and subsequent spoilage.
When added before cooking, salt brings out food’s inherent flavors. If salt is only added at the end of the cooking process, it may overwhelm the food. This is why salt is added to pasta cooking water – to flavor the pasta early on and bring out the flavors. So make sure to use salt at all stages of the cooking including the tasting at the end.
Different types of salts:
- Table salt is a fine-grained refined salt with anti-caking additives to prevent lumping in humid weather and make it free flowing (when it rains it pours). It’s used mainly in cooking and as a condiment. It can have a harsh metallic flavor. Table salt is regularly iodized; make sure to look on the label for the term “iodized”.
- Kosher salt is an additive-free coarse-grained salt made by compacting granular salt, producing large, irregularly shaped flakes which allows the salt to easily draw blood when applied to butchered meat (koshering process). The structure dissolves easily and provides flavor without over-salting because of its large surface area. Kosher salt has a clean, even, salty flavor. It’s preferred as a sodium reducer due to its shape, and the fact that there is less actual salt in a pinch of salt than with table salt.
- Pickling salt is a fine-grained salt that’s free of the additives that turn pickles dark and pickling liquid cloudy.
- Rock salt comes in chunky crystals, and has a grayish tint because it’s not as refined as other salts, which means it retains more minerals and impurities. Make sure it is marked as edible if you plan on consuming it, as it may contain some arsenic.
- Seasoned salt is regular salt combined with other flavoring ingredients like onion, garlic, herbs, or lemon. Seasoned salt generally has less sodium than table salt due to the addition of the herbs and spices.
- Smoked sea salt may come in fine grain or coarse grain. Try to avoid ones that have liquid smoke flavor added to them as they can be bitter and off-tasting. Preferably, they can be slow-smoked over real wood fires to infuse the salt crystals with natural smoke flavor. Smoked sea salts add a unique flavor to pork roasts, chicken, salads and sandwiches.
- Sea salt is a general term for a range of salts that result from the evaporation of seawater.Itmay be fine-grained or larger crystals. Sea salts are less refined, and often contain naturally occurring trace minerals, and are generally more complex in flavor due to these minerals. By weight, sea salt has the same amount of sodium as table salt.Check the label to see ifitis iodized.
- Hawaiian sea salts (red or black) are specialty-finishing salts. The red variety has an iron taste and is used to add color. The black variety has a sulfuric aroma from the addition of purified lava.
- Black salt (kala namak or sanchal) has a very strong, sulfuric flavor. Black salt is available in either ground or in lumps.
- Maldon sea salt, a British finishing salt; It has a light delicate flavor obtained by boiling seawater to form delicate pyramidal crystals.
- Sel gris is a gray sea salt from France.
- Fleur de sel or “Flower of Salt” is a by-product of sel gris, created when sel gris is allowed to bloom into lacy flower-like crystals in evaporation basins. Fleur de sel is considered a finishing salt because of its fine soft flavor. This is my favorite salt because of its divine perfect salty flavor. I love topping a fresh summer tomato with fleur de sel. OH HEAVEN!