The Way of Salt

by Eliza Ward

Salt is perhaps THE universal seasoning. It’s the thing that makes all other flavors in our foods taste better. Yet, despite its ubiquitous nature, salt and salt habits vary considerable from place to place and from cuisine to cuisine.

But in this country – The U.S. – salting is often done without much thought. And when I refer to salting, I don’t just mean how we salt, but I also mean which salt is used when we cook and eat. Most people in the US use Kosher salt – which is not all that surprising. After all, Kosher salt is what all culinary students are taught to use – which means most cookbook authors, chefs and food personality were introduced to the virtues of kosher salt at a very young age – mostly in culinary school, and mostly as a superior choice to iodized table salt. As a result, most recipes call for Kosher salt and were developed with kosher salt in mind.

But it’s time to re-think salt. It’s time to move away from Kosher and table salt, because frankly natural sea salt is just better – in so many ways. And, just as importantly, with all the types and textures of sea salt available today, there are no more excuses not to switch back to natural sea salt – not even when you bake. If you are seeking sea salt in baking, simply use a finely-ground sea salt, and you can substitute one-of-one with table salt in any recipe. Promise.

A Note about Kosher Salt

The major brands of Koshering salts are all refined products that are “manufactured” by a large chemical company. Kosher salt, like all industrial salts, was originally created for the chemical industry. However, Kosher salt because broadly marketed in the US as a replacement for iodized table salt starting in the 1950’s, and now 50 years later, it has become the de facto salt of choice in most American kitchens.

Kosher salt is not usually fortified with iodide. However, there are a variety of other additives in Kosher salt, including ferrocyanide, which is needed for koshering. Ironically, now that Kosher salt has become very popular, we are beginning to see a resurgence of iodine deficiency in the middle of the country – just like in the 1920’s. As a result, you can now find Iodized Kosher salt as well. We come full circle – and now Kosher can taste as horrible as table salt. Perfect!

A Note about Iodine

Iodine in the form of potassium iodide, potassium iodate, sodium iodide or sodium iodate, has been added to table salt in the US since the 1920’s. It was instituted by the US government as an inexpensive and effective way to combat iodine deficiencies in the US population, mostly present in the region around the Great Lakes. It was not done, as is often thought, to add back a nutritional element that had been stripped out of table salt during the salt-making process – although I’m not sure how that’s better.

Although not without its controversies, it turns out that iodine is present in abundance in most seafood and seaweed, and there is trace amounts in some natural sea salts. It’s also present in vegetables, except where the local soil is naturally low in iodine – such as in and around the Great Lakes of the United States.

Although Iodization does not harm salt, it does negatively impact the flavor of what is, in the case of table salt, an already flavorless salt. Iodized salt tends to have a harsh, acrid taste – not at all appealing as a culinary additive. But worse, the industry of making and marketing iodized salt hurts the production and use of natural sea salt, but instilling fear in the populous about what will happen to us if we don’t consume our daily dose of Morton’s iodized table salt. And while it’s true that, if we consume iodized table salt daily we will not likely suffer from goiters or other symptoms of iodine deficiencies, what it does mean it that we will more likely die of high blood pressure due to our over-consumption of pure sodium chloride – and possibly suffer from Alzheimer’s on our way out the door from all the anti-caking aluminum compounds added to many table salts to help resist caking. (Remember … “When It Rains, It Pours…”?). So the government, in all its usual wisdom, has essentially replaced one public health problem (iodine deficiency) with another, potentially larger, health problem (high blood pressure and heart disease). Makes me wonder … Which problem is worse, the one we can control by easily finding other sources of iodine, or the one which we have limited control over because of the now ubiquitous presence of sodium chloride in our food supply?

Besides, if you consume any packaged food products at all, chances are you are getting plenty of iodized salt in your diet without having to add more.

Final Note about Sea Salt

It’s time to delegate that Kosher salt (and table salt) you have in your pantry (and I know you have some!) to when you’re washing your pans or de-icing your sidewalk or keeping the slugs out of your garden. Not only will your cooking thank you if you switch, but so will your body, your friends, and small artisan salt-makers and salt-making communities worldwide.

 

See next (first) article: The Basics of Salt - Salt 101

See prior article: Not All Sea Salts are Created Equal

 

 

 

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