or sodium chloride, is a mineral, one of the few rocks
people eat. Saltiness is one of the basic flavors tasted
by our taste buds, along with sweet, sour, and bitter.
Salt is required for life, but over consumption can
increase the risk of health problems, including high blood
pressure. Salt can be reduced by 20% to 45% without
compromising taste if a small amount of MSG is added to
the food. Salt is also used to preserve food.
Types of salt
For the most part, the
various grades of salt are all the same; chemically most
are greater than 99 percent sodium chloride, but the
structure varies widely. Simple table salt consists of
small, compact cubic grains, while kosher salt has a much
more irregular structure and a larger surface area.
Popcorn salt is ground salt that dissolves very quickly.
Rock salt is just that, large chunks of sodium chloride.
These differences in structure can cause a significant
change in the perceived flavor of the salt and its
usefulness for particular recipes. The speed with which it
dissolves is also very important, with finer salts such as
pickling salt even dissolving readily in cold liquid.
Sea salt, made from
evaporating seawater, also varies considerably. Because
there are impurities in the water, each sea salt has a
unique taste and is prized in different cuisines or for
different applications. Sea salts often tend to cost
considerably more than other kinds of salt; however, in
areas with large seawater evaporation industries (such as
California) the "table salt" in local stores may
actually be sea salt. Another example is Cayman Sea
Salt has many uses in
cooking beyond simple flavoring. Its chief utility lies in
its osmotic properties. Salting the surface of food draws
out water and anything dissolved in it. When meat is
koshered, it is heavily salted to draw out any remaining
blood. Kosher salt, because of its structure, is perfectly
suited to this task. This technique is also applied to
eggplants to remove bitter flavors and alter the texture
of the plant, and also when sweating aromatic ingredients
such as onion or garlic over low heat to draw out their
moistures and soften them.
Salt also tends to
enhance our perception of other flavors, particularly that
of sweetness. This explains its use in ice cream, for
example, or kettle corn. Most candy recipes have a small
amount of salt which cannot be directly detected, but has
a noticeable effect on the final result.
Salt's thermal properties
are useful in a few applications, notably in home-made ice
cream. The action of rock salt dissolving in ice water
pulls heat from its environment. Ice cream makers, then,
sit the salt-and-ice mixture in an insulated container,
and inside that is placed a highly conductive container of
the cream mixture, which freezes rapidly.
Salt can be used to
"fry" food as well. Large amounts of rock salt
are heated in an oven to temperature (varies, generally
about 400�F or 200�C). After the salt gets hot, the
food is placed in the salt and an additional layer of
pre-heated salt is poured on top. This method is an
extremely fast way to get heat into food, second only to
deep frying, consequently, cooking times will be very
When salt is added to
boiling water for pasta or potatoes, two things are
happening. First, the boiling point of the water is
slightly raised, though not usefully so (the temperature
will rise less than .25�C). Second, the salt water is
flavoring the pasta or potatoes. When you add salt, you
are salting the water, you are not directly salting the
food. Thus the amount of salt should vary according to the
amount of water, which will always seem to be too much
Lastly, salt is of course
used as a flavoring. Table salt is most often used for
this purpose, but its chief virtue here is the added
iodine which prevents goiter. However iodine has a
metallic taste. Many cooks use kosher salt or sea salt in
its place. Besides the iodine the big difference is that
kosher and sea salt have larger sized particles of salt.
This makes it easier to measure when adding to a recipe. I
think sea salt may also have added minerals that kosher
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