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Salt of the Earth

My food tastes saltier lately, and I know why. I recently started using coarse-ground sea salt. I switched from regular table salt because it is considered healthier. I also am allergic to shrimp and wanted to avoid the added iodine in most table salts. But sea salt is indeed saltier, and also somewhat tastier.

Salt is an ancient ingredient with dozens of biblical references. It’s been considered a fertility symbol, necessary in mummy preservation and some religious ceremonies, and once used for currency. Salt is a natural preservative because it inhibits mold and bacteria from growing. Mostly, it is the most important seasoning in most foods from savory to sweet.

The choices of salts available are many. Table salt is the most commonly used. It is produced from rock salt mined from deposits from dried up salt lakes. It consists of the chemical compound sodium chloride. It is typically refined to remove impurities; however unrefined salt may also be used for seasoning. Anticaking agents are added to prevent clumping. It also is available with added iodine (sodium iodide), a dietary supplement that offsets deficiencies that lead to goiter and other health problems. In addition, iodized salt contains a dash of sugar which prevents the salt from yellowing.

Also commonly available is kosher salt. Kosher salt has larger grains and does not usually contain any additives. The coarse grain is important for use in drawing blood from meat before cooking as required in kosher cooking.

Pickling salt is specifically used for brining. The fine-grained granules have no additives allowing the pickling liquid to remain unclouded.

According to where most of my research was gathered from, Celtic salt is harvested by a 2,000-year-old method of solar evaporation from the waters of the Celtic Sea marshes in Brittany, France. It is supposed to be a bit pricier, but I honestly have never seen it.

Unseasoned salt has an infinite shelf life. If it clumps, you can add rice to the shaker to absorb the moisture.

The old trick to counter an over-salted soup or stew is to add a peeled and quartered potato to the pot. The potato will absorb the salt, so you may want to toss it after about 15 minutes. Water or cream may also be added to dilute the liquid.

Salt draws the juices from vegetables so if you want them crisp or plump such as with mushrooms, add the salt at the end. Limit salt even after cooking to beets, kale, celery, spinach, carrots, corn, and artichokes because they naturally are higher in sodium. Seafood also is salty since it comes from the salty ocean. Adding salt can toughen it.

The cooking shows recommend adding salt to boiling water for pasta. I don’t usually want the extra salt, so I don’t do that, but if you decide to add the salt, it should be added after the water boils. Salted water takes longer to boil.

Some recipes that call for salt cannot be altered. Salt is necessary in yeast bread recipes for it to rise properly.

Although the use-ratio for coarse grain salt is one tablespoon to two teaspoons of fine grain salt, coarse-ground salt is not as evenly distributed. You will bite into pieces of salt making it seem saltier. Sometimes this is preferred, such as with salted caramel.

©2013, Mary K. Doyle

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