Salt is essential to the health of people and animals and is used universally as a seasoning. It is used in cooking, is added to manufactured foodstuffs and is often present on the table at mealtimes for individuals to sprinkle on their own food. Salt is one of the four basic tastes, along with sweet, sour, and bitter.
In many East Asian cultures, salt is not traditionally used as a condiment. In its place, condiments such as soy sauce, fish sauce and oyster sauce tend to have a high sodium content and fill a similar role to table salt in western cultures. They are most often used for cooking rather than as table condiments.
Throughout human history salt has been essential to the preservation of foods. Humans and other animals have an inherent taste for salt, which brings out natural flavours, retards food spoilage, regulates fermentation rates, strengthens gluten in bread, and is essential for preserving meats and sausages. Salt is also an effective carrier of flavour, thus celery salt, onion salt, and garlic salt are common in the kitchen, and many chefs prepare their own flavoured salts.
The word salt probably originates from the ancient town Es-Salt, close to one the world’s best- known salt sources, the Dead Sea. Roman soldiers were given money to purchase salt, the salarium argentums, from which we get the word salary. The Romans also liked to salt their greens, which led to the word salad. The expression “He is not worth his salt” can be traced back to ancient Greece, where salt was traded for slaves.
Salt was integral to preserving the vast catches of cod and other fish discovered by European fishermen in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland at the end of the fifteenth century. Salt taxes have had profound impacts on world history, being a significant factor in the French Revolution, contributing to the toppling of China’s imperial government in the early twentieth century, and galvanizing Mahatma Ghandi’s resistance to British colonial rule in India. The Erie Canal, opened in 1825, was known as “the ditch that salt built” because salt was its main cargo.
Salt, in the form of the mineral halite, is obtained from underground mines such as the famed Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland and the mines near Salzburg, Austria. The Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah are the dried-up residue of ancient seas. Sea salt, prized by connoisseurs, is made by evaporating seawater, which averages 2.6 percent salt. Although much sea salt is evaporated artificially, in places where the ratio of rainfall to temperature is low enough, seawater in shallow basins is evaporated naturally by the heat of the sun. Sea salt typically contains traces of other minerals, including iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and iodine.
comes in very fine crystals and is treated so it will pour easily. It usually derives from salt mines and is refined until it is pure sodium chloride. Iodine, a trace element lacking in some diets, is often added. Popcorn or flour salt is superfine salt designed especially to adhere to popcorn and other snacks. Pretzel salt, large-grained salt that doesn’t melt quickly, is used for pretzels and salted breadsticks.
comes in large, irregular crystals and is used to prepare meat according to Jewish dietary guidelines (where meat must be salted to remove the blood before cooking), as well as on the rims of margarita glasses. With a large surface area due to the hollow pyramid shape of its crystals, kosher salt readily absorbs moisture. It’s preferred by American chefs because it’s light and easy to pinch and crush with the fingers, so it can be sprinkled evenly, doesn’t make salad watery, and, unlike table salt, isn’t prone to be confused with sugar in the kitchen.
Alaea Hawaiian Sea Salt
Alaea is the traditional Hawaiian table salt used to season and preserve. It is non-processed and rich in trace minerals, all of which are found in sea water. A small amount of harvested reddish volcanic baked clay enriches the salt with iron oxide. Used as a rub on red meat, the clay seals in the moisture while roasting.
Black Lava Sea Salt
These large crystals are sensationally black in colour. The salt is initially white and then activated with charcoal from volcanic areas in Cyprus, which turns it black; this volcanic charcoal also has health benefits such as being a natural detoxifier. It gives an interesting contrast on white, green and red coloured foods: fish, pasta, puréed leeks, tomatoes, turnips and potatoes.
Kala Namak Salt
Also known as Indian black salt or sanchal, Kala Namak is an unrefined mineral salt that, despite it's name, is a pearl-pink grey. Its very distinctive sulphuric smell dissipates when used in Indian cooking. Popular with vegan chefs for adding protein flavour to their dishes. Used as a condiment or added to chaats, chutneys, raitas and many other savoury Indian snacks. Try with eggplant.
Sel Gris – French gray sea salt
This French sea salt comes from Brittany France near the town of Guérande, and is made by naturally evaporating seawater in shallow pools. This all-natural sea salt contains high levels of minerals. As water naturally evaporates out of shallow coastal pools, salt crystals slowly form. The task of harvesting this salt is done entirely by hand. No mechanical machinery is ever used and no metal ever touches the salt. Nothing is added and nothing is removed. This time-consuming and labor-intensive process produces a superior sea salt. Sel Gris sea salt is called a finishing salt. It is lightly sprinkled on foods after they have been prepared. This preserves the salt's delicate flavours. French gray sea salt is coarse, moist, mineral rich, and creates a perfect complement to salads and all kinds of meats.
Flaky Sea Salt
The flake salt is especially valued for its pure qualities and its unique rich flavour. Harvested near Victoria's Pyramid Hill, its delightful bite adds character to cooking and salads. When used as a finishing salt, it reveals a unique sharper taste to the palate and so less salt is required.
Fleur de Sel
Fleur de Sel (Flower of Salt) is known as the caviar of salts. Only the youngest crystals from the very top layer of the salt ponds are hand harvested by barely skimming the surface. It has a delicate flavour, a moist texture, and a rich, sweet flavour that melts as it touches the tongue. Fleur de Sel sea salt is called a finishing salt. A natural compliment to steak, french fries, salads and pasta sauces. Sprinkle on freshly picked radish or raw sardines. Prized by chefs for sprinkling on foods just before serving, this high-priced salt contributes crunchy texture and bold, explosive flavour.
Peruvian Pink Mountain Salt
comes from a natural spring located 10,000 feet high in the Andes mountains of Peru, where the warm spring water seeps into terraced salt ponds, resulting in crystallisation. Since over 2,000 years, this salt has been harvested for use in seasoning. Use on all of your favourite dishes. Not suitable for grinders.
Himalayan Pink Salt
This hand mined salt offers the highest mineral content of any natural salt and is prized for its myriad health, detox and nutritional benefits. Born of the Jurassic era, this 250 million year old salt has been shielded from pollution for centuries.The delightful grains of pink, red and white are perfect to use when grilling or roasting meat, fish or chicken. Also ideal in a salt grinder for use as table salt.
South African sea salt
come from the country’s dry, windy west coast.
Smoked sea salt
is smoked over wood fires using a method dating back to the Vikings to infuse the salt crystals with smoke flavour from woods like juniper, cherry, elm, beech, and oak.
Korean roasted salt
is pearl gray and almost powdery, with a distinctive flavour from its mineral concentration, accentuated by roasting.
Traditionally used to preserve foods such as meats, rock salt remains an important ingredient in producing delicacies such as cured salmon. From a grinder, rock salt can be applied to a broad spectrum of dishes, providing an affordable and versatile addition to every pantry.
Melah (Hebrew); melh (Arabic); sel (French); sal (Spanish); sale (Italian); salz (German); shio (Japanese); sol (Russian).
Purchase and Avoid
Table salt is the most common variety; more obscure types may be found at specialty grocery stores.
Food simply would not taste the same without a pinch of salt. Always add salt before cooking to ensure even distribution throughout the food. Good cooks pride themselves on correctly seasoning their food, so pay the compliment of tasting first before adding additional salt! Salt is a vital ingredient for every cook. Here are some of its many kitchen uses:
Apples and Bananas
To keep peeled and sliced fruit prepared in advance from discolouring before cooking, place in a cold solution of 1 x 15 ml salt per 500 ml. Rinse before use.
Salt brings out the flavour of all pastries, cakes, biscuits and breads. In yeast cookery, salt prevents the yeast fermenting too quickly.
Before starting to cook, throw a handful of salt over the hot coals to prevent flames flaring and burning food.
Use flake salt or kosher salt when seasoning whole fish or meat for the grill, not only for seasoning, but also to make a light crust that will resist sticking to the grill.
Sprinkle roast potatoes and chips with salt before serving to keep them crisp. Rub baked potatoes with salt before cooking to bring out the flavour and keep skins crisp.
To achieve a crisp tasty chicken, rub skin with salt before roasting or braaiing.
Add a pinch of salt to ground coffee to bring out the full flavour.
If cucumber is sprinkled with salt before mixing with salads, it will draw out the excess water keeping salads crisper.
To salt peanuts, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts or almonds, heat a little vegetable oil or butter in a frying pan. Add the nuts, tossing them gently until evenly browned. Sprinkle liberally with salt and shake well. Cool on absorbent paper. Store in an airtight container.
Too Much Salt?
If you've made your soup, gravy or sauce too salty, add a peeled potato and allow to simmer for 5 - 10 minutes. Strain off potato before serving.
When filleting, cleaning or skinning fish, dip your hands into cold water and then into salt to stop your fingers from slipping.
Frying Meat and Fish
Mix 300 g flour with 15 ml pepper and 45 ml salt and keep in an airtight jar. Use to coat meat or fish before frying.
Add a pinch of salt to mustard when mixing to impart flavour and prevent it becoming dry and discoloured.
To achieve professional crackling on roast pork score the skin, and rub it well with salt before placing in the oven. Do not baste while cooking.
To crisp salads or vegetables (celery, lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, etc.) place in very cold solution of 15 ml salt per litre water for 10 minutes.
Salt acts as a stimulant to sweet flavours: try salt on melon, etc. instead of sugar.
Whatever the recipe, salt is the most important ingredient, it brings out the full flavour of the pickle and acts as a preservative.
To get the greatest bulk from an egg white, add a pinch of salt before whipping. To test the freshness of an egg, mix 250 ml water with 15 ml salt. A stale egg will float and a fresh one will sink.
Adding a pinch of salt to milk will keep it fresh longer.
Prevent mould on cheese by wrapping it in a cloth dampened with saltwater before refrigerating.
Salt can impede some foods, such as beans and whole grains, from becoming tender, so it’s best to add it once they’re half cooked.
Salt that’s added to a liquid, such as stock, that will later be reduced will concentrate as the water evaporates, so it’s best to wait to salt stocks, sauces, and the like until they’ve already reached ideal consistency.
Sprinkle specialty salt on food just before serving or at the table rather than while cooking.