Salt: Nutritional Friend or Foe?
These flavorful little grains have been given an unfair and rather disagreeable reputation over the past decades with health guidelines advising us to cut it out of our diet for fear of high blood pressure and other life-threatening conditions.
In reality salt is rarely the culprit for our over-consumption of sodium. It comes from the mountains of processed foods those eating the Standard North American Diet consume daily, where salt is used as a preservative and flavor enhancer to otherwise bland canned and pre-packaged goods.
In fact, salt in appropriate amounts is actually vital to your survival - it's an electrolyte necessary for energy and transporting nutrients, and it helps your body retain water for use rather than flushing it out. In addition to this, certain unprocessed varieties of salt contain vital minerals, such as magnesium and potassium.
By now, you've probably (hopefully) ditched plain old table salt from your salt shaker in favor of more flavorful, unprocessed sea salt, but there's a whole world of salts out there to discover. Here's the low-down on all the salts you need to know:
Table salt: This is your average salt shaker grind, and if you ask us, it doesn't really deserve a place in your kitchen. It's sourced from salt mines and is heavily processed to remove minerals and sediment, resulting in a bitter, harsh-tasting grain with few health benefits. Table salt most often has iodine added to it, an essential trace mineral that aids in proper development and hormone production. The mineral is naturally occurring in soil and is therefore found in most vegetables, but an iodine deficiency in certain regions of the country caused governments to start adding it to table salt back in the 1920s to ensure the population met its nutritional requirements. These days, iodine deficiency is relatively rare, and the mineral is easily obtainable from a well-balanced diet.
Sea salt: Sea salt gained traction a few years ago, popping up in upscale restaurants and gourmet food stores before finally becoming mainstream enough to gain a place on the shelves of major grocery stores across North America. As the name suggests, sea salt is essentially the result of evaporated sea water. It's minimally processed and preserves many of the trace minerals naturally present in the ocean, such as magnesium and potassium. It's available in fine and coarse grinds, but real salt aficionados swear by the flakes.
Do’s and Don'ts of Seasoning with Salt
• Salt isn't just for savory dishes! If your recipe doesn't call for it already, consider adding a small amount (a quarter of a teaspoon, or to taste) of salt to cake, cookie and muffin batters. Salt accentuates and compliments flavors, so while you won't taste the salt itself, it will make the star flavor in your dessert really pop.
• The volume of soups and stews reduces with cooking, making flavors more concentrated over time. Therefore, salt near the end of the cook time.
• Don't underestimate the power of properly salted cooking water. Whether you're boiling pasta, rice or vegetables, your water should taste as salty as the sea in order to properly flavor your food. Add one to two tablespoons of salt if you're using a large pot.
• Ever wonder why a simple green salad tastes so much better when you order it in a nice restaurant? The chef's secret is as simple as a pinch of seasalt. While it might seem odd to pass the salt shaker for a bowl of mescaline greens, the word 'salad' itself is actually derived from the Latin term for salt. While a pinch of salt to your finished salad will do, consider mixing it into your vinaigrette to evenly distribute flavor.
• Since sea salt consists of larger grains, you need to adjust the amount used when switching between table and sea salt. For every teaspoon of table salt use 1½ teaspoons of sea salt.
• Salt is often used as a natural cleaner, and it really shines when it comes to cleaning years of residue off your precious cast-iron pans. Bon Appetit recommends pouring a cup of sea salt into a warm skillet and using a folded kitchen towel to scrub away stubborn bits. Then, simply dump the salt, rinse and dry!
• Health Canada recommends keeping your sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams a day, which translates to just under a teaspoon. Keep an eye on your intake and limit (or better yet, eliminate) processed foods from your diet.