This common household ingredient has always been a major part of human lives. It went from actually being used as currency (it is actually the root word for the current term “salary,” derived from back when Roman soldiers were paid in salt) to now being sold inexpensively on the bottom of most supermarket shelves.
As human beings we love this little additive. We use it in so many different applications, from flavoring and cooking to preserving food, to killing slugs, to salting sidewalks to make it so its not so slippery. It truly is a part of our daily lives in many different forms, but let’s look at it from a cooking and nutritional stand point.
How do we get it?
Salt is either mined from the land, otherwise known as the rock version, or it comes naturally evaporated from the sea in the form of sea salt. If it is mined that they will pump water into salt deposits and then capture the water, or brine that comes out and then evaporate the water out of it until just the salt crystals are left.
If it is evaporated from the sea, then they capture sea water and allow it to evaporate in pools naturally from the heat of the sun, the wind, etc. They then scrape up the deposits that are left and sell it as the natural premium version of the world’s most common ingredient.
What is it and why do we need it? . . . And love it?!
Since it is primarily composed of sodium chloride, a mineral that we cannot do without, our bodies crave it. It actually heightens aromas, which are about 80% of what we taste, and lessens bitter tastes that tend to ruin flavors.
Sodium is a tricky thing, because if we don’t get enough it could kill us, but too much of it isn’t good either because it can be a major factor in high blood pressure which has been known to lead to heart attacks and strokes. Without going into too much detail, when salt is dissolved in water it turns into sodium and chloride aka, electrolytes. Our bodies use these electrolytes like sodium and chloride (as well as magnesium, calcium and others) to keep our blood flowing smoothly. If we have too much of one or another it throws the balance off. A good balance of electrolytes keeps our plasma (the liquid part of our blood) at the proper consistency. Too much sodium for example, can cause the plasma to get thicker and cause your blood pressure too get higher.
As American’s we on average get about 10 times more sodium on a daily basis than we really need. But don’t worry too much about this, because our bodies have a natural way letting us know when we’re getting out of whack. If we eat a lot of salty foods our natural inclination is to drink a lot more water or other liquids to balance out those incoming electrolytes.
What makes the different salts, different?
Granulated table – a cubed shaped granule, it takes a long time to dissolve. Since it is prone to clumping up they will put anticaking agents in it, like silicone and aluminum. But these anti caking agents don’t dissolve as easy as the salt and leave it cloudy when it does dissolve, so don’t use this salt if you want a clear liquid.
Iodized – Most table salts are now iodized salts since government health associations around the world suggest adding iodine to salt to prevent against thyroid diseases, like and enlarged thyroids a.k.a. “goiters” that can cause your throat to semi close off making it hard to eat and/or breathe.
Flake – This is the salt that is compacted and crystallized when going through the evaporation process, but is rather compacted into layers and then flaked off. This weighs a lot less than granulated salt.
Kosher – This is a mix of flakes and granules, it actually weighs about half of what granulated salt does, so take that into account when using it or substituting it in recipes. It is called Kosher because it is used in kosher butchering to draw out blood.
Unrefined Sea Salt – Is not washed after it is processed so it usually contains other minerals and thus can be other colors than just the traditional white.
Fleur de sel – French for “flower of the sea,” probably one of the most expensive you can buy. It is harvested by hand in France by skimming salt ponds. It is 100% pure and quantities are expensive and limited.
Pink Sea – This is farmed from the base of the Himalayas and is said to be 100% pure salt commonly has calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper and iron in it. All of these add to giving this its distinct pink color.
Infused Salts – These include items such as Truffle salt, Smoked salts, Garlic salt, onions salt, etc. These flavors have been infused through either mixing items in, smoking the salt or other means to give it that the distinct flavor and/or color.
Want to see some more? Check out http://www.salttvnetwork.com/articles/20110513/putting-some-sizzle-your-summer-first-timers-guide-cooking-steaks-salt-tvs-chef-sh