MAKE SURE YOU ARE CHOOSING THE RIGHT SALT
If you believe there’s only one kind of salt out there, think again. There is an astonishing variety of salt and each has its own unique taste, texture, and flavor. Table salt is the most commonly used salt, and is fortified with iodine. Table salt is very fine and dissolves quickly, making it easy to use, but it’s not especially interesting. Learn about the different types of salt and experiment to your heart’s content!
Sea salt is a mainstay for discerning cooks and foodies alike. There are 2 grain-types, fine and chunky. More granular than table salt, sea salt is a great finisher. Add a little bit to your salads, breads, or veggies to bring out the flavor. Use salt sparingly when cooking or baking, however, as its rugged granules don’t dissolve easily and may affect the texture of your dish.
Many cooks claim that it is healthier than table salt. Since it isn’t processed like table salt, it contains many trace minerals and nutrients that our bodies need to function optimally. It adds a distinctive flavor to edamame, steamed vegetables, seafood, and baked goods.
Rock Salt is mined from deposits found in dry lake beds, rock salt is often sold raw and unprocessed, making it the purest form of salt you can find. Also referred to as sendha namak, rock salt is very inexpensive, lower in sodium than other types of salt, and has a more subtle taste. Rock salt is often used in ice cream makers to speed up the melting process so the ice cream freezes faster.
Additionally, rock salt can be used as a home remedy for conditions such as arthritis and insect bites, and the large, jagged crystals are poured on snowy roads to melt the ice.
YOUR BODY NEEDS SALT
Most of us have heard that a low-salt diet leads to lower blood pressure and a diminished risk of heart disease. If you read health news or science blogs, salt looks like the enemy, raising blood pressure, clogging arteries, and generally wreaking havoc on our bodies. It’s true that eating too much salt can raise the amount of sodium in your bloodstream, thereby raising the levels of water in your body. Your kidneys must then work overtime to remove the excess fluid, which results in higher blood pressure. The FDA currently recommends eating no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt per day, roughly equivalent of 1 teaspoon.
That said, when you hear that salt is generally ruinous to your health in any quantity, well, you can take those claims with a grain of salt. While too much salt is not particularly healthy, salt still carries great benefits and it’s actually wise to include it as part of a balanced diet. Your body actually needs salt in order to function optimally. Diets that are too low in salt have been found to result in increased levels of hormones and lipids in the blood, and in extreme cases, cases of hyponatremia. Hyponatremia occurs when sodium levels in the body are abnormally low, and can lead to nausea, headaches, dizziness, and worse.
Salt is composed of sodium and chloride. Sodium is an electrolyte, and in addition to regulating the fluid levels in our bodies, it aides in the passage of nutrients to our cells while supporting healthy muscle and nerve function. The human body does not produce salt on its own, so we get it from food. Most food naturally contains salt, albeit in small quantities, and we add extra salt to processed foods as it enhances taste and acts as a preservative.
If you have a salty snack, you may notice yourself feeling thirsty afterwards. This is because when you consume high amounts of salt, your body retains water to stabilize the concentration of sodium in your body. So, if you’ve ever wondered why there are bowls of chips, peanuts, or pretzels on the bar while you enjoy a beer, this is why – salt makes us thirsty (and makes bartenders rich!).
In moderation, salt is part of a healthy diet and comes in a variety of flavors, textures, and forms. By experimenting with new varieties of salt, you can breathe new life into your meals.
IN THE KITCHEN
Salt has long been known for its flavor-enhancing qualities. To quote Homer, salt is “a divine substance.” Not only does salt make everything taste better, but it actually affects the cooking process in surprising ways.
It has a way of intensifying the flavors surrounding it. This is no accident. Adding salt to a given dish help release the unique aroma of that food, which is a big part of our perception of taste. In addition to adding a “salty” quality to our food, salt can also suppress bitterness and add complexity and richness to sour or sweet foods.
Salt can make a dramatic difference when cooking, depending on how you use it. The dehydrating properties of salt can help draw the water out of “sweating” vegetables during the cooking process so they soften quickly. While steaming, salt can bring out the colors and natural flavor of veggies, seafood, and meat. When cooking vegetables in water, salt can help retain valuable nutrients; when added to boiling water, a pinch of salt vastly improves the taste of starchy foods such as rice, pasta, or potatoes.
In addition to dehydrating, salt can also add moisture to food. For instance, chefs often use a cooking technique called “brining”, a process that involves soaking meat in a saltwater solution for a given amount of time, usually overnight. During the brining process, reverse-osmosis works to infuse the meat with water, thereby rendering it delectably tender, juicy, and flavorful when cooked. Brining is typically done before cooking a whole chicken or turkey, as these meats tend to be on the dry side.
Brine is also used when pickling fruit, vegetables, and meats. Here, salt works as a preservative and controls fermentation. The salt works in tandem with acid (vinegar) to inhibit bacteria and enhance flavor. It also draws out excess water, giving pickled foods that satisfying crunch.
When cooking meat, simply seasoning it with a bit of salt can draw the juices to the surface while roasting, creating a crisp, golden crust. A bit of salt goes a long way, making it an easy and economical way to add taste and texture to your meat dishes.
Too much or too little?
To create the perfect meal requires a delicate balance of flavors. Too much or too little of any spice can throw any dish off kilter, which is why it’s important to taste as you go. Add a bit of salt and then taste to make sure you’ve got it just right. Remember, it’s easier to add than to take away, so just sprinkle on a pinch at a time. If you have doubts or picky dinner guests, you can choose to add your salt right before serving.
Try a salty and sweet combo
If you’ve ever had salted caramel, you know how good salt can be when added to something sweet. When combined with sugar, salt intensifies the sweetness and adds crispness and complexity. Salt is also frequently used in baked goods to add texture and depth (think soft pretzels!). For the perfect combo, try sprinkling some sea salt on top of ice cream for an amazing burst of flavor...