Salt is certainly nothing new in our culinary experience. It is far more than just a tasty spice to add to our food. It is essential for a healthy life, playing a vital role in maintaining our bodies’ cells and helping us absorb nutrients. In other words, the call for salt has been a constant in human history.
Ancient Egyptians were the first to discover how salt can help with food preservation. The Ancient Chinese took advantage of salt lakes and were fighting over control of these reserves as far back as 6000 BCE. England’s towns were often clustered around salt springs, so much so that the suffix “wich” common to so many of them is about salt being around.
Of course, with the expansion of commercialism in the contemporary world, we have been introduced to a whole new take on salt. Now, we are paying attention to its color, its national origin, its mineral content, and all sorts of other acute details. At this point in history, we aren’t so worried about access to salt, but more so, which salt is the best?
Well, the answer can get complicated.
Source: Go Wild/YouTube
Where the answer to which salt is best is decidedly not complicated with refined salts. Most of the salt/sodium we get in modern diets doesn’t come from home cooking. It comes from processed foods, and it is not good for us.
Table salt is another example of refined salt. Table salt, the common stuff found on the table, is produced by superheating natural salts, which destroys all the beneficial compounds we get from them. Table salt also gets additives to keep it white and easy to shake out of the shaker.
Step one in choosing the “best salt” would be to simply avoid refined salts. The rest of them do offer some health benefits.
After basic table salt, sea salt is probably the most commonplace type of salt. It has become a standard on supermarket shelves. Sea salt is unrefined, acquired from a basic evaporation process that gets rid of seawater and leaves behind the salt.
While the salt itself is notably healthful, the problem with sea salt is ocean Pollution. With so much plastic and heavy metals now in our oceans, this wildly abundant source of salt has been contaminated. For the most part, fine sea salt can work well as a replacement for table salt in recipes.
Also commonly found in large quantities in supermarkets is kosher salt. Kosher salt can be sourced from the sea, salt deposits, and salt mines. Like sea salt, it doesn’t have additives or anti-caking agents.
Kosher salt is prized for its purity, and it tends to come in larger, flaky salt crystals. These work well when salt is a featured element in a recipe, such as with pretzels, margaritas, or smoked items. Chefs also like kosher salt because it crumbles easily when adding a “pinch” of salt.
Himalayan Pink Salt
Source: The Cooking Doc/YouTube
Himalayan pink salt has risen in popularity over the last decade, before which it was unknown to most of us. It is notably varied in minerals and contains all 84 trace elements, with the pink hue coming specifically from high amounts of iron oxide.
It is healthy, increasingly affordable, and pretty. That makes it a worthy consideration for use as table salt, adding to meals as needed. However, it’s also worth remembering that it must be sourced from the Himalayan mountains, which means considerable food miles for a minimal amount of additional health benefits.
Rock salt comes from betwixt layers of rocky earth. Its origins, like other salts, are from the sea, but it is found in deposits on dry land where the sea once was. This can include Himalayan salt, volcanic black salt, Persian blue salt, and Utah salt. The trace minerals can be slightly different in each of these, hence the different colors, but by and large, we are still looking at sodium chloride.
There is also a rougher “rock salt” found in hardware stores. It contains more impurities and additional minerals than other salts, so in its raw form, it is not generally included as a culinary salt. It is commonly used for things like making ice cream because it helps maintain a chillier temperature in water baths and is cheaper than other salts, which do the same. But, it isn’t typically added to foods. This rock salt would taste salty, as with all of these other salts, but it would cause a health issue.
Truthfully, no studies have shown any great benefit to using one type of salt over another in terms of health benefits. They are all 95-plus percent sodium and chloride, and to gain many advantages would require us to consume way more salt than would be healthy in the first place. So, it comes down to a matter of preference in physical characteristics like texture and taste, which can be slightly different.
But, if what makes the “best salt” is a health question, the answer is simply to avoid refined salt.
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