Salt- The Great Flavor Enhancer
What’s better than the perfect French fry with the perfect amount of salt? Ok, I admit, I’m Irish and I have a distinct love of potatoes. So, your perfect food may be chocolate or steak or Brussels sprouts. I’m okay with that. The point that I’m trying to make here is that salt can be the best friend of so many foods…and the enemy of your doctor. Are there any health benefits to salt? Are there any differences in all the salts in the grocery store? Keep on reading, and I’ll let you know.
Salt and Your Body
The American Heart Association is calling for people to watch the salt in their diets more carefully. Why? Salt makes you retain fluid (water weight, anyone??) and this increases your blood pressure. Beyond that, too much salt can irritate your stomach lining and has been linked to cancer. However, too little of this wonderful mineral can be a problem too. Without salt, your body can’t retain enough water. That’s why there is salt in electrolyte replacement beverages, like Gatorade. Keeping a healthy balance will let you enjoy the delicious flavor of salt.
Types of Salt
On to the fun! As you can guess, I love the flavor of salt. I love how it makes my vegetables worth eating, my sweets sweeter, and my driveway safe in winter (oh, wait…that’s a different blog). There are many types of salt on the market. I’ll tell you about a few and how I like to use them to get the best bang for your buck.
Table salt is what you find in shakers in restaurants all around the world and your great-aunt Myrtle’s kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, there are benefits of this type of salt. It’s the only salt that I’m going to discuss that provides iodine, which is a required element for your body (Ok, sea salt has a little, but not enough to really get worked up about). I like to use this salt with an extremely light hand and pair it with other seasonings. When I first started using a salt alternative, like Mrs. Dash, I tried to give up salt entirely. That was a mistake for me. I still craved that salty flavor that I just couldn’t get. But, when I drastically cut the amount of salt I was using and added a replacement, I was pleasantly pleased. I do this a lot with vegetables. Steamed asparagus with a tiny pinch of salt, Mrs. Dash, and lemon juice is REALLY good.
I was introduced to pickling salt back when I was a kid. My granny made cucumber pickles in a huge ceramic vat. The cucumbers would sit in a solution of water and this salt. I would sneak into the vat and eat the cucumbers as fast as I could. They were wonderful! Is there any doubt? This is the saltiest salt ever. Seriously, it does have one of the highest sodium contents of any of the salts out there. Because of this fact, use this salt with caution. I like to use it when brining meat. I enjoy that I can use so much less salt and still pack a punch. (Keep your eyes out for another blog in the future. I’ll show you how to make a fantastic duck recipe using brining. Your holiday meals are already thanking me!)
Sea salt is nice for two reasons. The first is the fact that it comes from the water (versus underground like table salt) so it requires very little processing. Hooray for limited chemicals touching my food! The second reason is the fact that sea salt can comes in different forms. It can be in a crystal or flake. I don’t use the crystal form very much (I use kosher salt for that), but the flake version is fantastic to make a great impression when finishing a dish. I like to use the flakes when I want the crunch of salt to stand out. Here’s a phenomenal recipe for Salted Chocolate Caramels, which uses the salt flakes exactly the right way.
Ahh. This is my “go-to” salt. It comes in a large crystal, which I like. Sometimes I want to have the flavor of salt fill my mouth and nothing does that better than a larger crystal of salt. A good example of this is every fresh fish recipe I ever make. That saltiness enhances the fish perfectly. However, sometimes I want an extremely fine salt (like on popcorn) but I don’t want to buy another salt. Good news! Kosher salt can be run in a food processor or grinder until it’s as tiny as a grain of sand on the beach. All around, it’s a great salt for everyday use.
There are tons of gourmet salts on the market. Some of which are very good (fleur de sel is worth trying when you have $15 laying around that you were looking to spend on 5 oz of salt) and some taste like, well, salt. I recommend broadening your horizons, and trying a few! Just remember with any salt, a little goes a long way. Use a gentle hand- your blood pressure will give you a high five!