In today’s wonderful world of cuisine, salt has evolved from being just another staple in our pantries to a myriad of choices with considerations based on texture, flavour, and health aspects. From sea salt to exotic salt such as “fleur de sel” or Himalayan pink salt, salt is playing a much larger role in our culinary choices.
With health considerations always affecting more of our daily lives than ever before, regular table salt has taken quite a beating over the past years. More and more recipes are now quoting salts such as “sea” or “kosher” instead of the simple ingredient listing “salt”. This is happening because of the larger crystallized shapes and slight flavour attributes that they offer over table salt. Another reason however, is because sea or kosher salts do not have the additives that regular table salt has and thus offer an arguably cleaner taste.
This being said, let’s first understand that all salt is the mineral sodium chloride. That’s what makes salt, salt. Looking at the ingredient list on a box of table salt from my pantry, it lists the following: salt, calcium silicate, potassium iodide, and sodium thiosulphate. In other words, there are three additives being combined with pure sodium chloride to make the final product: table salt.
Should we avoid table salt because of these additives? In a document I received from the Sifto Salt Corporation, it states that in a statistical study based on production averages in the year 2007, the following ingredient percentages are applicable: Salt (sodium chloride) 99.694 per cent, Calcium Silicate 0.250 per cent, Sodium Thiosulphate 0.048 per cent, and Potassium Iodide at 0.008 per cent. If it is true, that the additives are equal to less than one third of a percent, why are they even there and should we be concerned?
Calcium silicate is added as an anti-caking ingredient to keep the salt free-flowing instead of clumping into a mass. Potassium iodide is what makes table salt iodized and is a source of stable iodine; an important chemical needed by the body to make thyroid hormones and is added to salt to help protect against Iodine Deficiency Disorders. Sodium thiosulphate, from what I can find out, is added in very small quantities to help prevent the oxidization of the iodine.
Everyone has opinions, just like they do taste buds, and my preference is to use and recommend good old table salt when it comes to cooking where the salt is going to be dissolved in moisture with a number of other flavourings and ingredients. Raw applications however, or finishing procedures, would definitely benefit from gourmet salts such as varieties of sea salts and kosher salt. These applications would include raw vegetables, salads and any recipe which requires a finishing salt to be sprinkled on the finished dish. This allows for the consumer of the meal to taste and feel the differences that these gourmet salts have to offer.
To conclude, my advice is to help you save money and make sure you have enough iodine in your diet. Use table salt for everyday cooking except when a finishing salt is needed. When gourmet salts are being dissolved in cooking procedures their characteristics that you are paying for tend to be nonexistent and table salt is a fraction of the price.
Dear Chef Dez:
I see many chefs quoting kosher salt as an ingredient. What is kosher salt and how is it different?
Wayne F., Fort Frances, ON
Kosher salt is crystallized salt that has no additives and is traditionally used in the koshering process of purifying meats. The salt itself is not kosher per say, but the meat that is cured from this process is labeled “kosher”. The crystals of this salt need to be a certain size to efficiently and effectively draw moisture (blood) from meat in order to classify it as “kosher” in the Jewish religion. Chefs will admit that when taking a pinch of kosher salt it is easier to feel how much salt they are adding to a recipe, due to the size of the crystals. I believe that one should let their taste buds be the guide instead… but, like taste buds, everyone has an opinion.
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Chef Dez is a Food Columnist, Culinary Instructor & Cooking Show Performer. Visit him at www.chefdez.com