Salt needs no introduction. Everyone uses it every single day. But with so many options present in the market, Table Salt, Sea Salt, Himalayan Salt, Celtic Salt, and many other gourmet salts; is one type of salt better than other?
Is it always best to use the cheapest variety? Unfortunately not!
Salt was not always so cheap, during medieval period it was used as a “currency” to barter for other goods. It’s always been precious. In-fact, there’s a popular phrase; “worth one’s salt”; which essentially means “worth one’s money”.
Then how did salt end up being so cheaply available today? Are we compromising on its quality?
To answer these questions we need to understand. How is salt made?
Traditionally salt was made by evaporating sea water. Although this method makes a much richer quality of salt, it’s a lengthy process and the yield is low. Sea Salt is still made this way.
Now, Table Salt or commonly known as just Salt; is made by the process of mining. Yes, mining!
How is Salt Made?
Mining Process to get Regular Salt.
Salt is mined and extracted from under the earth; from underground water that has dried up, or from caves near seas. Seawater is now dried up and huge salt crystals are formed in these places. Regular water is pumped underground or in these caves, to make “Salt Brine”. Chemicals are added to this brine to clean it from debris, and what is left is Sodium Chloride or commonly known as Salt. This Cleaned Salt Brine is then dried in large furnaces at very high heat, for quick drying.
Sea Salt is dried Sea Water
I know this might sound obvious to many, but I could never wrap my head around how is sea water dried to make salt. So I looked into it. Emma Christensen does an amazing job at explaining this here, on the Kitchn.
What she speaks of is; large pools of sea water are made from the sea to the processing facility, and the water moves naturally from the sea towards the processing facility. The amount of moisture decreases as the water moves towards the processing facility, from having 3% salt content to 25% salt content. And eventually, most of the water dries.
A thick sheet of salt is formed which is broken down by large bulldozers, the thick crystals are then taken to a washing facility in dump trucks to make the salt brine. Here they wash the dried sea salt with bay water to dissolve unwanted salts, and what is left is pure NaCl or Sodium Chloride or Salt.
The process of making sea salt is very long, it takes years, but it’s very natural, low tech and makes a richer quality of salt.
Why so heavily processed?
Did you notice something interesting here? The source of Salt is not an issue. Both Sea Salt and Table Salt comes from the same source. Dried Water. Then what’s the issue? Why so much fuss about Sea Salt being better?
The problem is in the processing. When the salt is made by mining, it has to be cleaned chemically, to remove debris and mud. The chemical also eats away naturally present iodine, iron and all other minerals. FDA requires Iodine to be added back to the Salt since it’s deficiency is directly related to diseases, but what about all the other minerals that are lost?
The mining method yields a much higher amount of salt, but all the extreme processing strips salt from all its nutrients. Now anti caking agents like Calcium Silicate is added, this and others like it are highly debated for being safe to ingest or not. Calcium Silicate is kind of rock dust, very close to talcum powder, it is approved by FDA to be used in certain foods.
I belong to the school where it’s okay for kids to eat some dirt here and there; I think it boosts their immunity. But the issue I see with rock dust is the amount of salt we are eating, it is present in minute percentage in salt, but think about how much salt you eat daily, and have been eating all your life every day, the amount of rock dust you are consuming, unnecessarily. This rock dust is more like a cosmetic addition to salt to make it free flowing!
While most companies don’t use a lot of chemicals to clean the sea salt. This step can sometimes become the unfortunate part of getting sea salt from bigger companies which make regular salt, they’ve started processing sea salt the same way as regular salt. Some companies even add Calcium Silicate to Sea Salt to make it free flowing.
Fun Fact of cooking with different salts
One astonishing difference is; Regular salt has Calcium Silicate added to it, although in very small amount. Calcium Silicate absorbs 75 times more moisture than its weight. Chefs have found that their dishes have come out drier or low on moisture when using regular salt over Celtic salt. Especially in baked dishes, where moisture is so important and you can’t do much until the dish comes out of the oven. Interesting right? I was very surprised too since the amount of salt used is very less. A lot of gourmet chef’s give this as a reason to using Sea Salt or Celtic salt in their dishes over regular salt.
Selecting a good Sea Salt
Did I mention some of the larger salt companies, treat sea salt same way a regular salt and process it heavily (just making sure you got his part since it’s very important.)
It is always a good habit to turn any food product around and read its nutritional label, it’s true with salt too.
When choosing a Sea Salt here are some basic guidelines to find the good quality minimally processed Sea Salt.
- Color and Minerals: Salt is not supposed to be pure white. I know I am busting so many salt myths. Different colors that salts have like pink or gray show that the salt has many trace elements and minerals in them. You need these minerals and elements to balance your body, they make Sea Salt healthier. Many companies will even label the minerals on the nutritional label, you want to pick a salt with lots of minerals mentioned.
- Texture: Free flowing is a property added to salt cosmetically. Salt is supposed to be a little clumpy and sticky. That’s it’s natural property. It was made free flowing for two reasons, it’s easier to dash salt out of a shaker and easier to be poured out of the bottle. Would you rather have rock dust in your salt or keep natural salt in a closed lid bottle and take out a pinch of salt and sprinkle on food or spoon it out of the container? I would choose the latter, I know it’s different than how our mind is trained to use salt but isn’t it better to use the one without additives.
- Iodine: Don’t worry about iodine content, if your salt is minimally processed it will have naturally present iodine in it, it’s the heavy processing that removed iodine. Also, iodine is present is a lot of other food you eat. When iodine is added, sugar needed to be added to salt otherwise, the iodine oxidizes.
I hope this is helpful is choosing a better quality of Salt. It’s something you use every day, so many times whether you cook or buy your food. Just this fact makes it so important to choose your Salt wisely.
I know Sea Salt is a little more expensive than regular Salt, but investing in your health is the best investment you will ever make, I promise that!