Shaking up salt

Amanda O'Brien
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A product I’ve noticed that is taking more shelf space in grocery and speciality stores lately is salt. Sea salt, Himalayan salt and kosher salt are probably some of the more popular varieties being bandied about and featured in recipes, although the selection for salt doesn’t stop just there.

You’d think that salt is salt, but in actual fact there are many different varieties available, each with their own subtle differences.

Table salt is the plain ol’ salt that many of us carry in our cupboards. It is mined from underground deposits, and usually has most of the naturally containing minerals removed. In addition, it usually contains additives such as iodine, an essential mineral needed for mental functioning, and anti-caking agents, which help it to pour nicely and prevent the salt from clumping.

This salt is often further refined to create pickling or canning salt, pretzel salt, and seasoned salt (like lemon, garlic and other herbs), among others.

Seasoned table salt can be a little more expensive, whereas plain table salt is likely the cheapest source of all salts.

Sea salt, as its name implies, comes from the sea. One of the biggest differences between this and table salt is the size of the salt crystals. Sea salt can come in a variety of sizes from coarse to fine. Coarse, larger crystals give a crunch and burst of saltiness, whereas fine crystals are more similar to table salt.

Sea water often contains more than just sodium and chloride (the basic elements of salt).

Often gourmet sea salts are available in colours such as pink, grey, green and lavender, depending on the fine particles or minerals which may be dispersed in it.

Like table salt, sea salt also comes in various varieties such as Hawaiian sea salt, French sea salt, Italian sea salt, black salt (India), depending on where the salt comes from or where it is more often used.

Himalayan salt is considered one of the purest salts available. It’s also one of the more expensive. It is hand mined from ancient sea salts in Pakistan and can contain minerals like calcium, iron, zinc and more.

The amount of minerals in salts like this is small, however, so don’t overdo it on the salt just to get a little extra oomph of nutrition. You can find this salt in various shades, including white, pink and deep red. You’ve probably seen this salt on TV shows, where it can be cut into slabs and used to serve cold foods or even cooking meats and fish.

Kosher salt can come from either the sea or the earth. Its name comes from the fact that it is often used in the preparation of meat for Jewish dietary guidelines. Kosher salt, however, does not mean that it is certified kosher, but rather the structure of this salt enables it to draw blood from meats.

Many cooks and chefs prefer this salt as it dissolves and disperses quickly. It is lighter, and less dense, therefore if you are substituting it for table salt in recipes at home you may actually need to use a little more.

Even though they each have their differences, all of these salts are similar in their sodium content. And as we know, sodium in salt is one of the dietary culprits for increased blood pressure.  

Despite claims of being “natural” or “healthier,” these alternative salts don’t offer any real advantages, unless your palate is fine tuned to detect the subtle differences in taste.

In addition to the various kinds of salt out there, there are also salt alternatives. Most are made with potassium (instead of sodium) chloride. Potassium chloride salts do taste salty, but can also give a metallic aftertaste.

Salt alternatives can be helpful if you add salt during the cooking process or while at the table, as they may help you to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet. They aren’t recommended for just anyone though, and if you have any kidney trouble it’s best to check these out with a health professional.

Amanda O’Brien is a registered dietitian in St. John’s.

Contact her through the website:

Geographic location: India, Pakistan

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