Chef Notes: The Salt Diaries

Chef Notes: The Salt Diaries

I love salt. I know it’s not good for you, particularly if you have high blood pressure, and it should be used judiciously and in moderation. However, it is the most important flavor enhancer on the planet–That is not to say that you cannot enjoy your food without it or find other ways of enhancing flavour. Yet there is no getting around the fact that it is the simplest way of seasoning. Unlike herbs and spices, salt doesn’t add flavor it enhances it. If you’ve added enough salt that it becomes a flavor, you’ve added too much.  This is, of course with a few exceptions, where salt is meant to be a predominate flavor but those foods are generally not healthy choices from the get-go.

Iodized table salt is the most common.  It has tiny, evenly shaped granules and is ideal for baking. Iodine was added in the mid-1920’s as the US FDA recommends 150 micrograms per day to prevent deficiencies which lead to thyroid problems, specifically goiters. However, salt is now added to virtually everything you put in your mouth so your chances of developing a goiter are practically zero.  If you are a raw food enthusiast–eating only fruits and vegetables–you might need it. I grew up with iodized salt but switched to non-iodized about 15 years ago because I realized I could smell and taste the iodine and it wasn’t pleasant. I recommend non-iodized table salt for baking and in the cooking water of pasta and grains. Virtually all recipe measurements are referring to table salt.

Sea Salt is evaporated sea water.  It’s generally more expensive than table salt.  Foodies will tell you that sea salt has a “rounder” flavor than table salt and it is left in larger particles and therefore has a better “mouth feel” when used as a garnish.  Think of how wonderful a freshly baked pretzel is with those tasty little nuggets of salt pressed into the top.  It’s kind of a waste to use it in cooking water.  The granule size is not good for baking.  Its volume measure is not the same as table salt.  I use sea salt strictly for garnishing.

Kosher salt can be mined or made from evaporated sea water.  It’s not “kosher.” It’s simply often used in the koshering process, and for drawing out excess moisture. The granules are larger than table salt.  Chefs use kosher salt for seasoning as it’s easy to pinch with your fingers and control how much you are sprinkling onto foods.  I keep a ramekin of kosher salt next to my stove.  Almost all kosher salts are non-iodized.  The rule of thumb when substituting kosher salt for table salt is roughly to double the amount of table salt or, better yet, weigh it.

The important thing to remember about salts is that chemically, they are all the same. If you’re reducing or eliminating salt from your diet switching to a different type of salt will not work.  The differences are in how they are produced (evaporated sea water, mined, grown from crystals), the size/shape of their granules, and the presence/absence of minerals that can cause subtle flavor differences/colors.  There are also salts with added flavors such as smoked salts.  It is exciting to play around with the options but I recommend non-iodized table salt for baking and seasoning cooking water, sea salts for garnishing, and kosher salt for everyday seasoning.

And the next time someone sprinkles table salt all over your carefully seasoned dish before even tasting it, stab the philistine with a fork!

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