Salt is one of our greater gifts in the kitchen, an incomparable condiment, an everyday necessity and perhaps the most precious and valuable of our kitchen staples.
Salt. One of the most versatile ingredients in the kitchen. Salt. One of the most valuable commodities throughout time. Salt. It sustains most of the life on Earth and yet too much can be harmful or even kill us. Salt is a simple ingredient and yet it has so much power in the kitchen and in our lives. No wonder James Beard was so enamored of it.
Salt has been so valued throughout time because our bodies can’t live without it. The human adult male body is composed of as much as 60% water and the human adult female body is composed of as much as 50% water. We need that water but there is something that helps us retain it. Too much can be harmful. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300mgs a day (1 teaspoon) and says that 1500mgs (just under 3/4 of a teaspoon) a day would be ideal for a healthy adult. And yet the average American adult eats as much as 3,400mgs a day. Cooking fresh, unprocessed food can help you significantly bring that number down.
In Ancient Times Salt was so valuable that it was traded as if it were gold. Romans actually paid their soldiers in Salt instead of currency. Some kinds of Salt, even today, are so special – Fluer de Sel comes to mind – that they can be as expensive as Caviar. Some chefs carry Salt around in snuff like boxes so that they have it when they are eating outside their kitchens.
Salt has so many uses outside the kitchen but until the 19th Century it was used almost exclusively for the preservation and flavoring of foods. Traveling long distances, before refrigeration, by boat or horse made that necessary. Salt Cod and Pickles come to mind as prime examples of this. Today Salt is also used in industrial settings such as de-icing roads, walkways and runways at airports. It’s also used in water treatment plants, pharmaceuticals such as Epsom Salts, glass making, ceramics and more.
Salt is a naturally occuring substance. 250 million years ago the entire planet was covered in oceans. As those oceans dried up they left Salt deposits, now known as Salt mines or caves. In Europe large and elaborate mines were carved into these deposits – including chandeliers – for Emperors and Kings to feast in. Salt is still mined in these deposits.
You may have heard of Himilayan Salt. Of course, there are no oceans in the Himilayas and yet it is still mined from ancient deposits. Himilayan Salt Lamps are amazing. They bring a special glow to a room and help with relaxation. They are also air purifiers and help to reduce dust, cigarette smoke and pollen and they can even reduce the negative effects of looking at your computer, tablet or phone all day – but I digress….
Salt is still removed from the ocean. Water is collected in pans and left in the sun to evaporate, taking several months, leaving the Salt behind. The climate must be sunny and dry of course. Fleur de Sel and Fluer de Gris are collected on the shores of France. Celtic Sea Salt is collected in the same way on the shores of Ireland and Britian.
When Salt comes out of the oceans or mines it also contains minerals that are bitter in taste and need to be removed. The minerals are removed at various degrees depending on the salt and where it comes from. Fluer de Gris is called Gris – it’s gray in color because some minerals are left benind. Table Salt is refined even more, leaving a fine texture and a bright white color.
Salt is mysterious, powerful and an essential ingredient in our lives. In my next post I will tell you how and why to use it in the kitchen. Follow The Urban Foodie so that you will be notified about all of my posts.