Unprocessed Sea Salt
has had a lot of bad press over recent years and many people have the
impression that it is best avoided. Some food manufacturers make a
point of stating “Low-salt” or “No added salt” on certain products. But
in ancient times salt was so valuable that it was, quite literally,
worth it’s weight in gold. The word “salary” comes from the Latin word
for salt, a connection that dates back to a time when Roman soldiers
were sometimes paid with salt.
It is true that these
days over-consumption of salt is a common problem, contributing to
high-blood pressure and other cardiovascular complications. The main
reason for this is over-consumption of refined salt. Refined
salt is often hidden in processed foods. Salt is a cheap way to make
food tasty and is used liberally in producing packaged and fast food. I
once worked in a health food takeaway where we were well aware that our
customers loved the classic fast food combination of fat and salt – our
most popular foods used plenty of shoyu (soy sauce) and tahini (sesame
paste)! Avoiding excess salt is just one more important reason for
eating plenty of fresh, natural foods and less processed foods.
Sodium and potassium are the main “electrolytes” which the body uses to control water levels in the blood and tissues. An excess or deficiency of either of these ions can be life-threatening. If we eat a diet based largely on natural plant foods we do need some additional salt. Vegetables and fruits provide us with plenty of potassium and this must be balanced with sodium and other minerals. Salt also plays a key role in other ways:
- Aids in balancing blood sugar levels.
- Needed for the absorption of food particles through the intestinal walls.
- Clears the lung of mucus and phlegm
- Is a strong, natural anti-histamine
- Required for firm bone structure
Unprocessed Sea Salt
The most balanced and healthy salt comes from evaporated sea water –
unprocessed sea salt. It may have a slightly grey colour, which
indicates the presence of a variety of mineral salts other than sodium
chloride. It will have a less harsh, more rounded flavour than refined
salt. I always recommend using unprocessed sea salt in my recipes but
this is not only for health reasons – it also brings a more subtle,
complex flavour to the foods it is used to season.
Unprocessed sea salt contains not just sodium chloride but many other mineral salts besides, including valuable trace minerals such as manganese and iodine. However it is generally agreed that we cannot obtain sufficient iodine from sea salt. Iodine is essential for proper function of the thyroid. Goitre, a severe swelling of the thyroid gland, was once a common condition and this is why iodine is often added to common, refined table salt. However, the best way to obtain sufficient iodine is by eating regular amounts of seafood. In particular, kelp and other seaweeds are nature’s richest sources of iodine. Some people like to season their food with kelp powder.
How much salt should we use to season food?
This is often a controversial question in our cooking classes. We all
have differing salt requirements and it is best to trust your own taste
in this regard. Some people prefer not to use any salt at all in their
cooking. I know I have a tendency to be heavy-handed with salt, a habit
that comes from working in restaurants! I was disappointed that during
my chef training we didn’t have specific lessons on how to season with
salt. You may have noticed that under-seasoned food may cause diners to
grab for the salt shaker - which often results in them consuming more
salt than if the food had been seasoned correctly. I often have to
remind people in our cooking classes to taste the food before serving
it – even if it is made from a recipe.
I suggest that
the best level of salt seasoning in food is that which brings out the
full flavour of the other ingredients. The best way to learn this is
when making a soup. If you add salt gradually, perhaps ¼ or ½ a
teaspoon at a time to a pot of soup, you will notice that the flavour
of the soup ‘deepens’. At a magic point, the soup will have a “full”
flavour – without being at all salty. If you continue to add salt, it
will begin to dominate and your soup will start to taste salty.
Well-seasoned food is a sign of an experienced and skilful cook. Keep
cooking salts contain hydroscopic (water-absorbing) additives. These
help keep the salt from clumping and absorbing water. They are not
added for the good of our health! Bright white, free-flowing salt is
sure to have additives. Read packaging carefully and if possible buy
“unprocessed” or “certified organic” sea salt.
Where to Buy
You can find quality unprocessed sea salt at health food stores and many supermarkets.