Salt. Some people are told by their doctors to stay far, far away from it. Some can’t eat anything unless the food is dusted in it. It has become a B-List ingredient as it’s usually haphazardly tacked onto the end of a recipe, “Salt to taste”.
These meager little crystals have earned a bad rap. While it’s true that too much salt in your diet may raise your blood pressure, there is a history behind it’s importance, and ways to use it as a flavor-enhancing and, believe it or not, nutrient-adding seasoning. As cute at the Morton’s Salt Girl is, you can do better.
It has been used for thousands of years to naturally preserve food. The ancient Egyptians used it to preserve mummies. It became something everyone needed, but only a few could mine and produce, so governments actually began to tax it! You can learn more about the history of salt in Mark Kurlansky’s book, appropriately titled Salt, A World History.
As this is primarily a cooking blog, I wanted to talk about why it’s important to switch from plain table salt to a less-processed kind. When I first began to cooking for myself as a teenager, I noticed many of my cookbooks specified using sea salt. I didn’t understand why this was of any importance, other than it looked a little fancier (and thus a little more expensive).
While the minerals that make up various salts are the same – sodium and chloride – the differences lie in taste, texture and processing. To put it plainly, table salt is highly processed and has been stripped of any minerals that it may have once contained. A basic sea salt is made by evaporating the water from which it came, leaving behind trace minerals.
It’s easy: If you are going to cook with salt, you may as well use one that has more nutrients.
If you have never seen “gourmet salts”, you are in for a treat. They do cost much more than table salt, but would make a beautiful gift for someone that loves to cook, or a nice treat for yourself. Different kinds have different flavors.
Hawaiian sea salt, for example, is dark red in color due to the addition of a volcanic baked red clay called “Alaea” which gives it iron oxide, and a mellow salty flavor. Smoked sea salt is black in color and is actually smoked over real wood fires to add that deep, smokey flavor to dishes – certainly a flavor that would enhance grilled veggies!
Sea salt can be purchased in the spice aisle of most grocery stores, and certainly at your local health food stores. A basic sea salt is not very expensive, so don’t let the prices of the gourmet salts deter you! Get those minerals! And if nothing else, it makes you feel like a fancy-schmancy cook!