Contains: Salt, commentary. Is: Not a recipe, but a salty talk.
It was on a MasterChef episode with Gordon Ramsey, where the chef came forward with a dish that GR lambasted for not having enough salt. The poor chef noted he really did not LIKE a lot of salt in his food, but GR didn’t care and docked him for that lack.
I totally relate to that chef! I cringe watching some of these online cooking videos and the amount of sodium chloride imparted into their foods. As if other spices and seasonings simply did not exist. Salt on its own WILL penetrate further than herbs or spices, but this won’t help food that has been over-assaulted (as I sometimes term the practice). Salt that has permeated a steak over time (for example) will taste just as salty as if it hadn’t. I’ve done the ground beef hamburger patty experiment earlier – there is no taste nor textural difference between a burger which has had the same amount of salt mixed in compared to laying that same amount atop the burger. (So, I continue Mom’s practice of mixing the stuff IN.) The proviso being that you make burger patties when you plan on cooking them. (I still need to run the delayed-post-salting-cooking comparison, mainly because I really don’t do my burgers that way very often.)
Yes, some is often really important to add when cooking, but the balance can be added by diners at the table! This is why I always include salt and pepper shakers for guests! There are some high-end eateries where the establishment will not provide salt or pepper for customers simply because they fancy they’ve seasoned EVERYTHING appropriately, and are duly insulted should their “clientele” just happen to disagree.
(Oh, could I have this dish without cilantro? NO, I don’t care if cilantro tastes like soap to you, due to your “defective” genetics, it’s going to be IN there, because it’s MY dish I COOKED to MY standards of perfection!)
What Is Salt?
- Salt (definition 1):
any chemical compound formed from the reaction of an acid with a base, with all or part of the hydrogen of the acid replaced by a metal or other cation.
- Salt (definition 2):
a white crystalline substance that gives seawater its characteristic taste and is used for seasoning or preserving food.
- The salt we will discuss here is sodium chloride (also known as NaCL, its chemical abbreviation) – chlorine serves as the anion which tightly binds to the metallic sodium cation. The Na in the abbreviation stands for “natrium”, the German name for sodium. You don’t really need to know all this, but do recognize there are many types of salt – potassium chloride (KCl), for example. Calcium chloride (CaCl2) is the salt responsible for hard water. Sodium nitrite (NaN02 – 1 sodium, one nitrogen, and two oxygen atoms as its salt form) is mixed with sodium chloride to render pink salt for curing purposes. But we will focus on Sodium Chloride, our favorite salt!
Salt Through the Ages
(Or at least, through some of them….)
We have salt taste receptors on our tongues for a reason. While the bitter taste receptors may make us shy away from bitter foods (some of them are poisonous) the salt ones encourage us to seek out salty flavors, and thus, necessary sodium chloride. Of course, with civilization, we often get way too much of a good thing.
In regions of the world, salt was a pricy commodity. In the royal palaces in medieval times, extending in some cases into the early Renaissance, salt was reserved for the upper nobility – hence the expression of being seated “below the salt” or “above the salt”. The latter were given salt in small bowls they could reach over with their fingers to sprinkle on their food. Salt was generally expensive.
Salt, of course, was more prevalent as a condiment in communities at the edge of the sea. One could evaporate sea water and come up with salt, either for trade or for personal use.
Why Cook with Salt?
- Salt is indeed required for the long-term preservation of canned foods. Indeed, for safety reasons, Follow the Recipe. Also, through history, salt was an ingredient used for the preservation of foods in lieu of refrigeration (or even canning).
- The salt component of a marinate will soak in further to the meat or whatever, than any other seasoning component will. There are times and places where this is entirely appropriate and desired.
- Salt will draw out excess moisture from veggies and meats, which for some recipes is essential. Although my stint at trying this with cucumber left behind a truly nasty batch of sludge… Doesn’t always work – but it is a GREAT idea with eggplant/aubergines, as here it really draws off bitterness along with water.
- Very handy with baked goods. Here, I do follow the recipe recommendations regarding salt.
- Salt really does add flavor, and helps other flavors develop themselves. You just need to decide how much of this you personally desire. And, for which dishes.
- And yes, salt IS healthy. (Too much of anything, even water, is not.)
Health Benefits of Salt.
Life would not be possible without salt, and here I am speaking of good old sodium chloride, our familiar table salt. Our bodies need a good balance of sodium chloride and potassium chloride. Even those people with heart conditions need SOME intake of salt. Note that an excessively LOW level of salt intake is not healthy.
Where to Limit Salt.
- The recommended USDA daily limit for salt is 2,400 milligrams (mg) for a healthy and non-risk adult. If you eat a lot of processed foods, it is easy to go beyond this. According to the FDA, Americans eat an average of 3400 mg / day. Which means there will be plenty of people going to the extremes.
- Excess sodium can lead to high blood pressure, often called the “silent killer” This in turn puts people towards an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke.
- High risk individuals – those already having such conditions, for instance, and apparently those of us over the age of 51, should seriously consider limiting our sodium chloride intake to 1,500 mg / day.”
- The American Heart Association notes that if Americans cut their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day, cases of high blood pressure would decrease by 26 percent.” Most younger and non-risk people have more leeway than others, of course.
- To add more seasoning to your foods, without relying on salt, salt-free seasoning products such as Mrs. Dash (which personally I find near-tasteless), and Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute (which I find flavorful) are helpful. And/or develop a good and diverse spice rack, which is my preferred approach.
- PS> Do NOT panic over the occasional splurge. Salt does get excreted – although this is a reason why you might have to worry about kidney health.
- PPS> I am NOT a medical doctor or dietary professional. Please find one and consult with yours!
Types of Salt.
- Iodized Salt. Various salts of iodine are added in many/most countries to rock salt to provide necessary thyroid function. If you don’t eat much seaweed or ocean-dwelling sea life, do be sure to take some of this iodized salt into your diet. Thyroid issues are not recommended, nor fun to deal with. If you eat a lot of “processed” foods, you will be getting iodized salt. Otherwise, you can use it as table salt for guests to apply as they wish – or just simply cook with it yourself. It is usually found fine-ground.
- Pink Himalayan Salt – this is NOT to be confused with Pink Salt (which is sodium nitrite, instead of sodium chloride), and is to be used to cure and provide a red color in corned beef, bacon, and certain charchucerie). The Himalayan salt is pink due to minerals deposited eons ago when this salt formed and dried in what is now known as the Salt Range Mountains of Pakistan, south of the Himalayas. It is mined and exported elsewhere for processing and purifying. Health claims have yet to be verified, but is not harmful. You can buy it coarsely or finely-ground (I buy coarse-grind). It contains no iodine. This salt is also made into smooth-topped baking “sheets” for cooking fish and other dishes on. Salt ambiance is supposed to carry into the item that rests upon it. I’ve never tried that.
- Sea salts – they are processed by the evaporation of ocean water. Some excess minerals may be removed, depending on the source, and mineral concentration. Iodine is not usually added to these. One might think that, it being a product of the sea, sea salts would have a good deal of intrinsic iodine – they don’t. Rather, this accumulates more readily in living organisms such as seaweed, shellfish and fish. The big problem now with sea salts is that microplastics are now part of the oceanic environment, and are difficult (impossible?) to extract sufficiently from harvested salt. You can find sea salts finely or coarsely milled. I still use them, but.
- Celtic Sea Salt. This is actually a brand, and for a long while was considered the go-to. It may still so considered. Interestingly, it arrives moist, but does not clump, despite that. I had my container for at least a year before I used it up, and it never did clump, despite also its existence in a house that went through hot and humid summers without the benefit of air-conditioning. It is coarse-grained.
- Grey sea salt. Celtic salt falls into this overall category, but it is not moist, and will clump when damp.
- Salts from dehydrated/dehydrating landlocked seas. The prime example of this is sea salt mined/collected from the salt flats surrounding Utah’s Great Salt Lake. One good advantage of this is you won’t be getting the current “addition” of microplastics found these days all over the oceans.
- Black lava salt is simply sea salt harvested from various places around the world that has been blended and colored with activated charcoal. It is used as a finishing salt. Sorry, folks, it didn’t usually start that way. There are naturally black-ish Hawaiian sea salts, and there is even a black Indian sea salt – but mostly what you’ll be finding is blackened on purpose for the market.
- Kosher salt You can find this finely or coarsely ground – I prefer to buy it coarsely ground. I have also seen it sold in flake format. Many chefs recommend it in cooking.
NOTE: the volumes of the various salts vary and don’t usually correlate with weights. It is probably best to do as they generally do in Europe, and weigh your salt for cooking. A half-teaspoon of fine-grained salt will weigh a lot more than a half-teaspoon of a coarse, or a flaked salt. Which means you’ll get much more sodium chloride in your dish – and a saltier flavor – if you use finely grained salt and rely purely on volume.
Most of these do have expiration dates. Some of them are expensive, so use accordingly – reserve for dishes they’ll complement. Most of them are “finishing salts” – not to cook with but to apply just before serving.
- Porcini Salt. This is a dried mushroom-infused salt. It is lightly brown/tan in color due to the mushroom component, and would be used as a finishing salt for some Continental dishes, mostly French. I can see it on a good cut of steak in a dish where mushrooms would be welcome on the plate.
- Chicharron Salt. This one is DEFINITELY not vegetarian, much less vegan. Ground up pork rinds/cracklings are incorporated into coarse salt, and sometimes this mix will contain a mild amount of nightshade-based heat (originally cooked with that pork skin). I’ve used this with hard boiled eggs, and it would taste great in deviled eggs (but be considerate of your vegetarian friends!) It would also go well with braised pork, or added to cooked greens.
- Garlic salt. This is commonly found in your supermarket. Garlic powder is mixed with salt and sold in a relatively-fine granulation. I prefer to just get garlic powder, sans salt, and make my own mix as appropriate for a given dish. But it is popular enough (judging by its supermarket ubiquity) I thought to mention it.
- Smoked salts. I’ve picked up one or two of these over the years. I don’t see any in my current collection, however. I’d preferentially use them on cooked greens, or perhaps, seafood.
- Black lava salt is simply sea salt harvested from various places around the world that has been blended and colored with activated charcoal. It is used as a finishing salt.
Discovered that I had published a post back in 2012 about salts, but only regarding two of them. This post is far more extensive. I’d frankly ignore my old one.
This post is linked to a few blog hops and link parties, as seen below: