Katie's Healthy Bites: Salt Varieties
The average person should only eat 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day – that’s about one teaspoon max. Instead, most folks are overdoing it – no thanks to packaged foods that include loads of sodium for enhancing flavor and preserving.
But salt doesn’t need to be an enemy. When you cook at home, a dash from your own shaker can really boost a dish, and if you’re mindful, you don’t have to go entirely without. That plain table salt isn’t your only option either – all the varieties come with different flavors, textures and unique nutritional values.
Salts are either mined from the land or harvested from the sea. Where they’re from and the way they’re processed have a lot to do with their texture, flavor and nutrients. Most are made up of two minerals: sodium and chloride. Iodized salt and “table salt” are what most folks have in their kitchen. These salts come from salt mines and, during processing, get stripped of most of their nutrients before they hit store shelves. Both also contain additives to prevent clumping.
Iodized salt came about in the 1920s, when there was high incidence of iodine deficiency, which can cause mental retardation and thyroid problems. To add the iodine, manufacturers spray the salt with a potassium iodate solution. This salt works best when baking because of its fine grain, which is easy to measure and quickly dissolves. Note: One teaspoon contains 2,300 milligrams of sodium, which is your max for the day.
Kosher salt gets its name because its coarse grain is integral in making meat kosher – it helps extract more blood from the meat than a finer grain of salt can. Many chefs like it because it’s easy “pinch.” These salts are free of additives, including iodine.
Although its makeup is similar to table and kosher salts, sea salt is harvested and processed differently. The grains are produced when sea water evaporates and contain some trace minerals and elements specific to the original water source. Some think sea salt is a healthier option because it’s minimally processed, which helps retain its natural mineral content. More expensive than kosher or table salts, sea salts also have a lighter, fresher flavor and come in a variety of coarsenesses and colors.
You’ll find many different kinds at the market and even more online. Here are a few of the better-known, specialty kinds:
- Himalayan Pink – a hand-mined salt found in Himalayan Mountains. These high-mineral salt crystals range in color from sheer white to pink to deep red.
- Hawaiian sea salt – Alaea, a volcanic red clay with a high content of iron oxide, adds a distinctive pink hue to this salt. It’s often used in many traditional Hawaiian dishes.
- Fleur de Sel – This salt is skimmed from the top of salt ponds early in the evaporation process and is a great finishing or condiment salt. Most come from Portugal.
- Smoked salt - Manufacturers smoke the crystals over wood fires to infuse them a smoky flavor.
- Celtic sea salt – also known as “Grey Salt,” this is a moist, mineral-rich salt available in coarse and fine grains. Originally from the Atlantic coastal regions of France, it’s harvested by hand through a traditional Celtic method.
So, with all these options, which do you use? I always opt for a sea salt because it’s less processed and naturally rich in nutrients. I also prefer a coarse grain that I can grind or easily pinch. A rule of thumb: The coarser the salt grain, the less sodium per teaspoon. To keep the sodium under control, choose a salt with a robust flavor — that way a little bit enhances the other ingredients you’re using.