Salt - The Spice of Life
by Eileen Troemel
I reside in
Janesville, Wisconsin (near Madison). By day I work as a clerical
worker and at night I spend my spare time
writing. Writing is my way of expressing my
feelings about my world and life. Raised on
a farm, I have a love for nature and am
inspired by the beauty and power I find
there. I've been married for 27 years and
have three adult daughters. Some of my other
interests include cooking, genealogy,
reading, and crocheting.
For every meal there is
one thing people generally reach for before they even
take a bite – the salt shaker. Salt is one of the
oldest spices used and is a key component to humans,
animals, and plants.
Its flavor is unique and
versatile, salt has been a staple throughout time.
Enhancing almost every dish, salt is added to breads,
meats, fruits and vegetables to sauces and desserts.
Additionally, salt aids
foods in a variety of ways like:
helps protect against microorganisms, bacteria
through dehydration and preventing growth of
bacteria, which slows or prevents spoilage.
Texture Aid –
in bread making, allows the dough to rise by giving
helping the gluten hold more water and carbon
dioxide. In meats it improves tenderness and
in cheeses it aids in consistency of the cheese and
the hardness of the rind.
Binder – in
processed meats it helps retain water which reduces
the loss of meat when cooking.
– in ham, bacon, and other processed meats it helps
obtain the desired color. It also helps create
a golden crust for breads.
Control – slows and controls the fermentation
Summer sausage production
Types of Salt
When you reach for that
salt shaker on the table or on the stove while cooking
what type of salt are you getting? While salt is
gained from two sources, salt deposits on land or from
the sea, once harvested it is essentially processed in
the same way, through the creation of brine and
Salts, like so many other
foods, has become trendy with the multitude of seas
salts now available to the home cook. Is the trend
overrated or are these salts really worth their weight
The main difference between salts is in their texture.
>Each salt has its own distinctive flavor, color,
and texture. Experiment with different salt when
cooking. Salt is like money! You get what you pay for.
You can put the best ingredients into making your dish,
but if you blow it on the wrong salt, the dish will not
be as good.
There are three basic types of salt:
– mined using water to create a brine.
Table salt, the one found in most salt
shakers, is mined from salt deposits and has most of
the minerals removed. Most salt in
the United States is sold with iodine added making
it iodized salt. This salt is harvested by forcing
water into a mine to create brine (salt/water
mix). The brine is then evaporated leaving cubes of
salt. The salt is refined from there to create
Pickling salt, Canning
salt, Coarse salt, Gos sel - fine grained without iodine or anti-caking
preservatives. This is similar to table salt, but lacks
the iodine and anti-caking additives that turn
pickles dark and the pickling liquid
cloudy. Pickles made with table salt would still
be good to eat, but they wouldn't look as
Pretzel salt - large grained, does not melt quickly.
Rock salt - large crystal salt with a gray color, due to
minerals not removed from normal table salt.
This form of salt is available in most grocery
stores, and also through hardware stores.
Popcorn salt - very fine grained salt which is flakier
version of table salt.
Iodized salt - contains a small amount of potassium iodide
and dextrose as a dietary supplement to prevent
thyroid disease. (see Salt Composition and Medical Uses below).
Seasoned salt - table salt with herbs added like onion,
hickory smoke or garlic.
Kosher salt, Koshering salt - also made
from a brine but this brine is continually raked
during the evaporation process.
Kosher salt is an additive-free coarse-grained salt. This salt was developed for the
preparation of kosher meats in accordance with
Jewish dietary laws. The salt itself is not kosher,
but this is where the name comes from. The
difference between table and Kosher salt is that
during the evaporation process it is raked to give
it a block-like structure which allows the salt to
draw the blood out of meats. The raking makes
Kosher salt coarser and flakier than table salt so
it disperses more easily. This makes it
lighter and less dense than table salt. It is
also recommended to use Kosher salt for cocktail
glasses for drinks like margaritas. Since it
is a lighter salt, there is less after taste with
Today many cooks and chefs prefer it over table salt
in their cooking, as it dissolves fast and its
flavor disperses quickly. Kosher salt weighs less
by volume than table salt, so you must increase the
amount of salt used in a recipe when substituting
for table salt. This is a great all-purpose salt.
Sea Salt - made from ocean or sea water,
contains trace minerals not in the mined salts.
Sea Salt is just that – salt gained from
evaporating salt water collected from an ocean or
sea. The process is more costly then the
mining process. Sea salt is typically less
refined than other salts. Depending on the
seawater used, you also get a variety of minerals in
the sea salt. Due to this there are numerous
types of sea salts. Here are a few:
Black Salt, Kala Namak, Sanchal -
Significant for its strong sulfur odor (India)
this salt is a pearly pink gray. It is used in
Grey salt, Celtic salt, Sel Gris
Harvested from the light film of salt which forms
during the evaporation process. The gray or
light purple color comes from the clay in the region
of France where it is harvested. Collected using traditional Celtic hand methods.
Hawaiian sea salt - Has a distinctive
pink hue from the Alaea added to it. The Alaea
is volcanic red clay with a high content of iron
oxide. This salt is used in many traditional
Hawaiian dishes like Kahlua Pig and Hawaiian Jerky.
Coarse salt, Gos Sel, Gale Grosso
a larger grain salt which resists moisture and is
intended to be ground. Uses include flavoring
for soups and salt crusts on meats.
Flake salt - Shaped like snowflakes,
the brine is made using the sun and wind for
evaporation. Then the brine is slowly heated
to create the flakes.
Fleur de Sel, Flower of Salt, Flor De Sal
- Skimmed from the top of salt ponds early in the
process of evaporation, this is considered a great
condiment salt; also good on grilled meats, in
salads and on vegetables. The flavor, like
wines, varies depending on the region it is
harvested from. Typically it is from France
though some is produced in Portugal.
French Sea Salt - Processed less than
American salt, retains more of the mineral content
gained from the Atlantic seawater it is harvested
from. This usually includes natural iodine.
A coarse salt, this is good for salads, vegetables
and grilled meats.
Grinder salt - Large dry salt crystal
which can easily be put through a grinder. With a
salt grinder you want to avoid metal as the salt
will corrode the grinding mechanism.
Italian Sea Salt, Sicilian Sea Salt, Sale Marino
- Harvested from the lower Mediterranean sea by hand
using traditional methods of natural evaporation,
this salt is high in iodine, fluorine, magnesium and
potassium. A delicate salt which is good on salads
and in sauces.
Smoked Sea Salt -
One other derivative
of sea salt is a smoked sea salt. The salt is smoked
over real wood fires to add the flavor to the
crystals. These can be used in soups, salads, pasta
and also in grilling foods like salmon.
Organic Salt: Organic salt has
different standards than organic livestock or
botanicals. Some organizations have started to
set up guidelines to ensure the quality of water and
Lite (light) salt and
salt substitutes: These generally do not have a great
flavor. Lite salt uses potassium chloride to reduce
the sodium level in the salt. Salt substitutes
have little or no sodium in them. Typically only
people who have a medical reason use these because
the flavor is not as good as salt.
Sour Salt: There is a product
called sour salt which is not made up of salt at
all, instead it is citric acid. This is used
to prevent browning when canning fruit. It can also
be added to rye or sour dough bread to make it more
When using salt, you may
not have available some of those listed above or a
recipe may call for one type you don’t
like. Substitution may become necessary. Here are a few
Kosher salt – a
non-iodized coarse table salt or a coarse pickling
salt but make sure you read the label and there are
no additives. When making this substitution use
about half the salt called for in the recipe.
Pickling salt –
substitute Kosher salt which is free of additives
that can turn your pickle brine cloudy.
Pretzel salt –
Kosher salt or a coarse sea salt.
Table salt –
Kosher salt but use twice the salt called.
Hints on using
different types of salt
Different salts offer
different qualities based on how they are used. Here are
a few hints on the way to use certain types of salt:
Fine salts –
use for baking unless a recipe calls for something
different. The texture and size of a fine salt
is smaller and more dense than a more coarsely
Kosher salt –
is great to use while cooking as the size of the
salt is easier to see how much is being added.
salts – avoid using during a cooking process
unless it is a very quick process like with salmon.
If used during the cooking process the flavor and
texture can be lost.
and Medical Uses
Since most salt is
produced in relatively the same way, there is little
difference when it comes to health benefits in which
type is used. Salt is plentiful in most foods even
fruits and vegetables. Processed foods have an
alarmingly high level of sodium so it might be best to
avoid those if on a salt restricted diet.
Typically salt is made up
of sodium and chloride. Sodium cannot be produced
within the human body so it is important to the diet. Sodium helps regulate water balance ph and osmotic
pressure. Chloride is equally important in the
human diet for it helps the blood to carry carbon
dioxide; potassium absorption; helps in digestion; and
conserves acid-base balance. Iodine is added to
most North American salt in an effort to reduce Iodine
Deficiency Disorder (IDD), which causes mental
retardation, miscarriage, goiters, brain damage in
infants and can impair growth and development. This
effort has been highly successful in North American
nearly wiping out the problems associated with IDD. All
of these benefits are received from the common salt
shaker almost everyone has on their table.
The recommended salt
intake varies on the individual and their genetics. In general though, a minimum of 500 mg per day with a
maximum of 2400 mg is a good guideline. This is
difficult to regulate because so many foods do contain
Having the right level of
salt assists the body with many functions including:
Easy and active
absorption of other nutrients in the small
Key to hydration
during exercise and outside activities.
Increasing salt intake
can combat chronic fatigue syndrome.
Helps regulate the
water levels in cells, nutrient levels, and waste
Salt is considered one of
the first antibiotics, which is probably where the term
rubbing salt in a wound comes from. Human blood
actually contains 0.9% salt and a solution of water and
salt in that proportion is commonly used to irrigate
As with anything, too much
salt may cause problems. Some of the problems
include the following:
Hypertension or high
High acidity, which
may cause cancer.
In healthy people, too
much salt is typically discarded by the kidneys. However, a genetic abnormality preventing the absorption
of chloride may cause cystic fibrosis which can be
detected by testing the saltiness of a person’s sweat.
Since Americans tend to
over indulge in salt much focus has been placed on the
effect salt has on hypertension. Many studies have
been done and debate continues as to whether salt
adversely affects blood pressure. Listed below are
some of the general conclusions from the vast array of
Minority of population
can lower their blood pressure by limiting salt.
be caused by too much salt in a diet.
Hypertension may lead
to heart attacks and strokes.
Life style changes may
have more affect on blood pressure / hypertension
Low sodium intake can
be just as dangerous as high sodium intake.
The group who benefits
the most from reducing salt intake is overweight
While the debate continues
in the medical community, the regular person can only
attempt to reduce salt in their diet to see if it
affects their blood pressure. If the craving for
salt continues, it may stems from a lack of zinc in the
diet. An increase in foods rich in zinc may reduce
the desire for salt. Foods rich in zinc include:
Balance is the key when it
comes to the use of salt and the health. So many
foods are rich in salt that adding it to a meal is
probably not needed. If someone is at risk with
high blood pressure, simply remove the salt shaker from
the table in an effort to wean them off the habit.
One thing which was clear in most studies is that the
affect salt had varied greatly among individuals based
on genetic make up.
Alternative Uses - Cooking Tips
Being so widely used, salt
has many alternative uses besides the traditional food
additive. There is an abundance of alternative
uses which are separated into categories below. Be
cautious when using all of these, remember to start
small to determine if there will be any adverse
reactions to any of these procedures and uses.
tips to help with common problems in the kitchen:
Over salted soup – add
a cut up potato or two to absorb the extra salt.
Rub a griddle with a
bag of salt to prevent sticking and smoking.
Before frying fish
sprinkle the skillet with salt to prevent the fish
To prevent food from
sticking to skillets, waffle irons or griddles,
sprinkle with salt and heat in warm oven, dust off
salt and return to cupboard. Next usage, foods
A pinch of salt goes a long way. Here are some hints
that utilize a pinch of salt or perhaps a bit more while
you are cooking:
pinch of salt:
When whipping eggs to
create fluffier eggs.
To enhance the flavor
of coffee and in overcooked coffee helps remove the
To whipping cream or
egg whites to get them to whip faster.
To milk to have it
stay fresh longer.
To icing prevents them
To improve boiled
potatoes, salt after draining - this gives them a
fine mealy texture.
Keep salads crisp by
salting immediately before serving.
has multiple uses:
Rub the chicken skin
with salt to remove pinfeathers more easily.
Improve the flavor by
rubbing salt inside and out before roasting.
Sea salt is derived from salty seawater. By combining salt with
water again here are some great tips to help out in the
Salt makes water boil
at a higher temperature which reduces cooking time.
Boil eggs in salt
water to ease the peeling process.
To set the whites of
poached eggs, boil over saltwater.
Place an egg in a cup
of water with 2 teaspoon of salt, a fresh egg will
sink, a floating egg may be spoiled.
lettuce and other greens in saltwater will keep them
Lightly salted cold
water helps maintain the color of apples, pears and
Soak in saltwater for
hours to make shelling pecans easy.
Dampen a cloth with
saltwater and wrap around cheese to prevent molding.
Sprinkle ice with
salt, place gelatin salads or desserts on ice to get
them to set more quickly.
Christina “20 Amazing Ways to Use Salt”
Catherine, Secrets of the Spas, Black Dog &
Leventhal Publishers, 1999
Greta, The Herbal Home Spa, Storey Books, 1998
and Ian Marber, The Food Doctor, Collins & Brown
What's Cooking America.
For a large selection of gourmet salts to choose from
and purchase, check out
What's Cooking America's Gourmet Salt specials.
History of Salt
board, salt has played a key role in most cultures.
Economically it’s been important throughout the ages.
Salt has been referenced and utilized in nearly all time
periods and cultures from before recorded history.
It’s been used as money and for trade in many early
cultures. Some examples of the key roles include:
Salt was paid to soldiers in Rome.
The Dutch foiled Phillip
II of Spain’s plans in the 16th century by
blockading an Iberian salt works. Salts key role
economically led to Spain’s bankruptcy with the loss of
this key product during the blockade; thus preventing a war.
Salt tax in France became
a major contributing factor to the French revolution.
China published, somewhere
between 2700 BC to 4700 BC, a treatise concerning the
medical uses of salt.
worth his salt” stems from an ancient Greek practice of
trading salt for slaves.
British crown issued the
first patent to an American settler, giving Samuel
Winslow exclusive rights to produce salt using his own
Erie Canal, known as the
ditch that salt built, was initially used to transport
The importance of salt has
evoked many fairy tales and myths. The early Chinese had
a folklore describing the discovery of salt. Egyptians
used salt in the mummification process. Some of the
earliest Egyptian writings have a description of how to
extract salt. Salt extraction and processing crosses
many cultures from Egyptian, Chinese to French, Persian
Salt has been a part of
religion as well. Some cultures ascribe magical
powers to salt from protection to cleansing. The bible
and the Talmud have numerous references to salt.
Health and Beauty Tips
To ease a sore throat
by gargling (make it warm).
A mixture of ½
teaspoon of salt in a pint of water to reduce tired
and puffy eyes.
To soak sore feet
(keep the water warm).
To ease mosquitoes and
chigger bites, soak in saltwater, then mix lard with
salt to rub on the affected area. Additionally
for bee stings – immediately moisten area and rub
salt on the sting.
To help heal poison
ivy (make this hot water).
Combine sea salt and oil:
To create a scrub.
Rosemary oil is good to inhale if there is nasal
congestion. Salt is slightly abrasive to help with
exfoliating the skin. Helps stimulate the lymph
production which helps eliminate toxins.
Caution – do not apply to
face or broken skin areas.
Or water to create a
paste. Rub on body starting with arms and working
down. Add essential oils to create your favorite scent. Caution
– test this on a small area to make sure your body can
tolerate the scent and product. Natural oils you
can use include Grapeseed Oil, Almond Oil, Apricot
Kernel Oil, and Olive Oil.
Soak in a tub with sea
salt to relax and refresh yourself.
Mix sea salt with your
favorite essential oils to create custom bath salts. Two
ounces of sea salt to about three eye droppers full of
– mix multiple oils in a container before adding to
salt. This gives the oil a chance to blend scents before
adding to salt. Uplifting blend add equal parts of lime,
grapefruit, sweet orange, tangerine, and lemongrass.
Natural decongestant - blend equal parts of eucalyptus,
lavender, and rosemary. If this is too strong you can
also add a few drops of peppermint to the mixture. Be
careful when working with peppermint as it can overwhelm
the senses very easily.
Other Uses for Salt
Salt has a
variety of uses both in the out of the kitchen.
Its versatility, from medical to household uses is one
of the reasons it has been so sought out throughout
time. The varieties may seem confusing at first but
break down into three simple categories. So next time
you pick up a salt shaker, you will be picking up a bit
of history, health and flavor.
Outdoor and Garden tips:
pinch of salt to the water of fresh cut flowers to
Remove poison ivy with a salt and soapy water mix, three
pounds of salt to a gallon of soapy water.
Deodorize canvas shoes by sprinkling with salt.
Spread salt between bricks or blocks on your patio to
keep unwanted weeds from growing up. Sprinkle gently
with water so the salt hardens.
Lightly sprinkle rock salt on walks and driveways to
assist with snow removal.
Make a salt dough for children.
Make a mini volcano out of
Salt can be used in almost
any room of the house to assist in cleaning, sanitizing
and deodorizing the home. Combined with other
substances like lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda it
is a strong and versatile cleaner. Caution
– always test the mixtures on a small area to ensure
Following is a list of
cleaning tasks salt can make easier:
Use a paste of salad
oil and salt to remove rings from tables. Apply and
let stand for an hour or two before wiping off.
Into cups or pitchers to remove tea or coffee stains.
On the sides of vases
to remove water deposits, if unreachable soak in a salt brine.
In thermos and jugs to deodorize.
On tarnished silver before washing.
Plain, not iodized salt on the sides of an empty fish tank to remove
water deposits. Rinse thoroughly before placing fish back in the tank.
On cutting boards (after washing thoroughly) with a damp cloth to
brighten up the board.
piece of paper and run a hot iron over it to remove
rough spots from an iron.
wine stains after blotting the excess, covering the
stain. Let dry, if a table cloth rinse with cold
water; if carpet then scrape up the salt and vacuum.
greasy pan and wipe with paper to degrease.
eggy dishes right after breakfast for an easy clean
oven and use lots of elbow grease for a clean and
pour salt to smother grease fires.
Occasionally use a handful or two on the flames of a
fire in a fireplace to turn the flames yellow and
loosen soot in the chimney.
Combine vinegar and
flour (using equal parts) into a paste. Apply paste
to any brass and let sit for an hour, before
cleaning with a soft cloth.
scrub to remove stains on copper pans.
scrub grease spots out of carpets – be careful not
to scrub too hard and damage the nap of the carpet
(use one part salt to four parts vinegar).
remove onion odor from your hands.
Combine salt and
cleanse perspiration stains, combine 4 tablespoons
of salt to 1 quart of hot water, then use a sponge
to dab at the stains.
remove blood stains in natural fibers like
cotton. Soak stained clothing in cold saltwater,
then wash in warm soapy water, then boil.
wash and brighten curtains and washable rugs.
soak toothbrushes before using to extend life.
soak a new broom before using to extend the life
(make sure to use hot water).
send it down the sink drain to eliminate grease and
remove bitterness and stains from coffee pots (use
four tablespoons of salt to a pot of water).
scrub wicker and set in sun to clean and prevent
Combine lemon juice
and salt to:
paste to scrub the bathroom to get rid of mildew.
remove mildew or rust stains, soak item and place in
the sun for bleaching.
a paste to rub on piano keys to prevent yellowing.
Combine baking soda
make a refrigerator deodorizer.
Combine with water to clean and freshen the
refrigerator without scratching.
create a tooth cleanser. Use moistened
toothbrush to dip into the mixture and brush your
teeth and rinse your mouth.
With boiling water to clean and brighten yellowed
cottons or linens.
Using strong saltwater,
soak your candles for a few hours. Take out and let dry,
then your candles won’t drip.
Have artificial flowers to
arrange? Pour salt in the vase, add a little cold water,
and then arrange the flowers. The water/salt mixture
will harden to hold them in place.
Saltwater – use a sponge to wipe down windows and then
wipe dry to prevent windows from frosting over.
Similarly using moistened salt over the car windshield
will keep it free of snow and ice.
expensive exfoliates and other beauty products when you
can create your own from an inexpensive product
available in everyone’s cupboards.
Use dry salt as a scrub
after a shower or bath to exfoliate dry skin.