Salt. It’s almost a four-letter word these days. Companies toss it by what seems like buckets into processed food; newscasters share stories that salt is the devil. And what happens? Salt as a culinary ingredient can be overlooked. I don’t mean the crappy white powder on the table in a diner, partially filled with rice. I mean true, unprocessed salt – the only rock eaten by people.
Salt is a crucial element in all life on Earth. People have built entire civilizations around salt. Going back to times B.C, salt was used by Egyptians to make mummies and was a high-end trade item between Phoenicians and the Mediterranean. Rome constructed its empire around salt mines and many people died to preserve their nations’ saltworks. The word “salary” was derived from the word “salt.” Salt was highly valued until recently and its production was legally restricted in ancient times, so it was historically used as a method of trade and currency. The word “salad” also originated from “salt,” and began with the early Romans salting their leafy greens and vegetables.
Before refrigeration, salt was the main method of food preservation for people though out history. Food stuffs of all kinds have been salted, cured, brined and pickled with a variety of methods and recipes. Salting was used because most bacteria, fungi and other potentially pathogenic organisms cannot survive in a salty environment. Any living cell in such an environment will become dehydrated through osmosis and die .
Religion even links to salt. Egyptians, Greeks and Romans included salt in offerings and rituals. In both Islam and Judaism, salt seals a bargain because it is immutable. The Torah (Leviticus 2:13) speaks of a “Covenant of Salt,” where God instructs the use salt on all the offerings as if to say that His covenant with those of the Jewish faith is eternal, sealed with salt. Since salt never spoils, it is a symbol of indestructibility. Thus, it has role in current Jewish faith as well.
Salt is an excellent cleaning agent, either on its own or in combination with other substances. A salt and vinegar paste cleans tarnished brass or copper. A strong brine poured down the kitchen sink prevents grease from collecting and eliminates odors. Salt drives away ants and moths. A salt and oil paste removes white marks caused by hot dishes or water from wooden tables. Salt is also useful in the bathroom. It makes an excellent mouthwash, throat gargle or eye-wash; it’s an effective antiseptic; and it can improve skin complexion (think those fancy salt scrubs from places like Lush).
And even with all this history and many purposes, modern society thinks of salt as “bad.” The reality is that people can’t live without salt. Many folks overdo, of course. Salt is critical for digestion. It does more than accent food flavors. Without salt, which the body cannot make on its own, humans would be unable to transmit nerve impulses,transport nutrients or nerve impulses or move muscles – including the heart! Salty tastes trigger production of saliva and gastric juices, both essential for food digestion. We are also constantly losing salt, so there is a need for regular replenishment.
Even animals instinctively know they need salt. If you live near wild deer, elk or moose, hang a salt lick on a tree. These critters will show up to take advantage of all the essential minerals.
Alas, salt is a sublime substance. Wars have been fought over it. Civilizations have fallen for lack of it. You wouldn’t be alive without it. Salt is part of us all. Put down that crappy processed salt in the blue canister you’re holding right now. It’s time for an upgrade to real, gorgeous salts.
You may not know this, but different salt tastes different. Let us introduce you to a few of our favorite salts… In the above photo, front row, left to right: Cyprus White Flake Salt; Hickory Smoked Maine Sea Salt; and Herbes de Provence Sea Salt. In the back row, left to right: Red Sea Salt, Kilauea Hawaiian Black Salt; and White Silver Hawaiian Sea Salt. These salts are chunky, colorful and bursting with unique flavor. Some people call them “finishing salts.”
There are 3 basic kinds of eating salt: table salt (the stuff in the blue canister), which usually is the cheapest, most processed kind, has added iodine and anti-caking agents, and contains no trace minerals; sea salt is less processed and many chefs prefer it for cooking as there are no additives. Kosher salt is also less processed and usually comes in a coarse grind – it has a lighter flavor than most sea salts. Finishing salts are also usually sea salts. Finishing salts all have particular flavors and are somewhat raw in terms of processing, meaning they have a lot of trace minerals. They can be used at the end of cooking to sprinkle on top, or at the beginning. A good finishing salt has unique mineral, moisture, and crystal qualities that play off foods to create more flavor, better texture, and beauty. (Ahem… the non-eating salts are things like chemically-treated ice-melt salt for winter storms, or epsom salts you use in the bathtub. These are both useful, too, though!)
We love salt. And we want you to love it, too. For the next three days, we’re going to post original recipes featuring some of our fancy, unprocessed salts. First will be Sweet Potato Fries with Herbes de Provence salt; Hawaiian Volcano Rice with Black Salt, and Salted Peanut Toffee. We hope you’ll rediscover salt without overdoing it and try some of these incredible gifts from nature. After all, why not eat some rocks? 🙂