Salt is a well known word but an easily misunderstood ingredient. This mineral has been used for centuries to preserve, cure and season. Every household has some form of salt in their pantry. As a personal chef in Atlanta, I use salt every day as one of my core ingredients.
Salt has such a familiar taste that we sometimes forget its presence in our food. We all love flavorful foods and salt is the ingredient that enhances flavors and activates our taste buds. Salt is also the number one ingredient in processed foods.
Of course, excessive use or abuse of this small ingredient can lead to severe health issues such as high blood pressure and heart-related illnesses. So, we need to be conscious of our salt intake when it comes to our food choices.
And yet, instructors at culinary school emphasize to new chefs that salt is the essential ingredient in the kitchen. I remember being docked once for presenting a dish that did not meet the salt expectations of my culinary instructor.
As I have learned about the many varieties of salt in the world, I have adapted the techniques I use to make the most out this ingredient. For example, I usually season my food to to taste and not strictly the amount called for by the recipe.
This can be tricky as the taste and potency of salt varies based on its type, texture and production process. For instance, sea salt seems saltier than table salt or Kosher salt, so I adjust the amount I use accordingly. I also keep in mind the flavor my clients are looking for in the dishes I prepare for them and their guests.
Salt: One Ingredient, Many Varieties
Processing salt is an art and the process used to make it affects its taste. Table salt is a refined version of sodium obtained from underground deposits. Its minerals are removed (which helps prevent clumping when used in baking) and some have iodine added.
Kosher has a flaky texture which makes it easier to control while seasoning. In addition to flavor and texture, kosher salt can be used for pickling and garnishes. Kosher salt is so powerful it can be used for removing stains from pots and cleaning cast iron pans.
One thing I have learned about kosher salt is that not all kosher salt is necessarily certified. So, be sure to read labels carefully.
Sea salt is sodium that has been evaporated to obtain the coarse crystals we often see in different size and colors. Most manufacturers leave it to consumers to obtain their desired coarseness by using a grinder. The color and flavor of sea salt depends on the water source (seas or oceans). Despite claims that sea salt is healthier, it has the same nutritional value as table salt and should be consumed in moderation.
Himalayan salt, also known as pink salt, is believed by many to be the purest salt on earth. Himalayan salt has different shades of pink is due to its mineral and iron content. However, the more transparent and colorless the crystals, the purer the salt. Himalayan salt is mined by hand in the mountains of Pakistan and prepared in Berchtesgaden, Germany.
Although Himalayan salt is pink, be careful to not get it confused with Prague Powder #1 or Pink Curing Salt #2. These are used for pickling or curing because of they contain sodium nitrate and not the sodium chloride contained in other salts. Sodium nitrate dissolves better and produces a less cloudy brine.
Personally, I like to use Himalayan salt to intensify the flavor of the seafood dishes on my international cuisine menus. Others use its essential minerals for alternative health applications. It is believed that regular consumption of Himalayan salt may eliminate toxins, balance pH levels, restore electrolytes in the body as well as increase blood circulation. This salt is also used in spas for bath, aromatherapy and other therapeutic uses.
Hawaiian salt is traditionally used for medicinal purposes and island ceremonies. It is also known as Alaea Hawaiian Salt because of its Alaea volcanic clay particles. These particles enrich the salt with iron-oxide and natural colors.
And then there is black salt. You may know black salt as Indian black salt, namak, kala or sanchal. It was originally and naturally obtained from volcanic mines in northern India and used in many Asian countries surrounding the Himalayan mountains and Pakistan. Although it starts off pink, it changes into a variety of colors when heated at high temperatures. These colors include brown and purple but its true color - pinkish grey - comes from the high amount of iron sulfides and magnesium found in its composition.
Black salt may have a strong odor at first but this dissipates. When black salt is added to foods, it changes color to reddish brown and purple tints. Although not scientifically proven, it’s believed that black salt has less sodium than table salt. Besides culinary uses this salt has been used in ayurvedic medicine.
No matter which type you prefer, salt is a vital mineral to our bodies and daily presence in our lives. It’s also essential for creating great meals. A little goes a long way, so it’s best to use salt in moderation. You can learn about the intensity of salt in your dishes by tasting as you go. This way, whichever salt you use, you can max out on flavor while keeping your daily intake to a healthy minimum.