I have two great fears in life — death and being denied access to a salt shaker.
I used to be self-conscious about this, stealthly shaking salt onto my buttered bread, backing down when a smug server would respond to my request with, “The chef has already appropriately seasoned the food.” But I am no longer closeted or apologetic. I wear my salt-love with pride and feel great kinship when I see a cook (or fellow diner) toss salt about with abandon.
The problem you see, with salt, isn’t salt, it’s processed food. It’s where 80% of the salt we eat, is hiding. But if you eat minimal amounts of processed food, you’re unlikely to have to worry. Unfortunately, the government has led us to fear salt and begun proposing strict guidelines (no more than a half tsp/day) in an attempt to get tough on salt crime. But for cooks, this is culinary heresy. Adding salt is one of the easiest ways to become a better chef and leaving it out – the surest route back to Lean Cuisine.
Two interesting “asides” about salt … with hot foods, salt makes the gaseous molecules separate from the food, causing it to smell (and hence taste) more intensely; with bitter food, salt’s been shown to cut the bitterness more successfully than sugar.
As of what kind to use, here are the options:
- Table salt: Highly refined, mined salt, often lower priced and usually contains anti-caking agents as well as dextrose (sugar), and iodide (added since the 1920’s to combat goiter.); half of all global salt production is from the sea, but in the US 95% is mined.
- Kosher salt: Made by compacting salt into thin flakes; usually contains no additives or iodide. (The less refined salt don’t contain added iodide. Don’t be put off by the warning, “This product does not contain iodide, an essential nutrient.” You only need a tiny amount in your diet and you’re probably getting enough if you eat eggs, dairy products or seafood.)
- Sea salt: Not mined; usually less refined; contains small amounts of natural iodide; but check for additives (the popular La Baleine, for example uses the chemical anti caking-agents E535 in their fine salt (not in the coarse) which I don’t think is good for us); Maldon (white and flakey) is one of the more popular though the most unrefined sea salts are often grey.
- Fleur de sel: From Western France; highly prized crystals from the “flower of the salt” that form at the surface of the salt pans.
You only need one ingredient in salt – salt. I avoid the ones with man-made anti-caking agents (though silicon dioxide, calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate are natural anti-caking), as well as iodide and other additives. For cooking, I use inexpensive, un-refined “sea salt” and for post-cooking, Maldon or “fleur de sel”. But even a mediocre salt is better than no salt at all, and the only other food I can say that about is bacon.
What’s been your response to the anti-salt movement? Any salts you love?
Photo: Pass the salt. © Michelle Madden
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