Friday, November 2, 2007

The Old Salt

People have been asking me about salt. Not about my husband, The Old Salt. But they need to know about salt. Old, traditional salt. Real salt.

Salt. We can't live without it. Yet we have been taught to fear it. Without it, food tastes bland, somehow wrong. With it, food has heightened flavors, and it can be used to make many foods last longer.

People want to know which kind to use, how much to use, and so on. I really don't intend to write a dissertation on salt--the definitive book, Salt: A World History, has been written. But perhaps I can quickly give an orientation to salt and some resources.

Let's start with background: naturally occurring salt is not just sodium chloride. It contains a complex of many trace minerals, which vary depending on the source of the salt. Refined salt is pure sodium chloride, but usually has additives, including dextrose, synthetic iodine, flow agents, even fluoride. These differences, between the natural and the refined, may explain why for many years "experts" have told us that salt consumption is hazardous to our health. The reason we think that salt is unsafe is that studies have been done with refined salt, not the real, complex substance.

Anytime we consume a refined product that is missing key elements, the body has to compensate by drawing on it's stores of those elements--in this case, the missing minerals. This creates an imbalance, and the body--always attempting to reach homeostasis or equilibrium--will do it's best to cope. Eventually, symptoms of deficiency, and then illness, arise. Since salt functions to help regulate fluid in the body, one of the effects of using refined salt can be swelling or edema (showing an imbalance of the fluids between circulation and tissues), and the well-known effect of high blood pressure. For some interesting information on the health issues of salt, see this site.

So we need salt biologically. But really I want to talk about taste, about food. That's why we are here, after all. What salt do I use? Well, I was introduced to the real thing by my daughter who went to France--Brittany, specifically--last year. She lugged home pounds of huge, damp, grey crystals she had seen workers rake out of the salt beds at the edge of the sea. She had lived with a family who kept 25 lb sacks of The Real Thing in the pantry, and large open salt jars on the counter. She told me how this salt went liberally into most every dish, so I learned how to use this strange new substance that bears no resemblance to the stuff that pours when it rains. And I was hooked. It changes the food and it subtlety changes my relationship to the food. I taste, I add a pinch. I wait for it to dissolve, to disperse. I taste again. I am more responsive, more flexible. Measuring means nothing and the taste means everything.

I have used other real salts, and continue to do so. Here, we can buy Celtic Salt, Himalayan Salt and Real Salt. I am sure there are other great brands. The commonality is that these are unrefined salts, as found in nature--either from the sea or mined from the earth. These salts all have color and texture. They are varied and fascinating. Each has a nuanced flavor, a different use. Delicious Organics has a wonderful page exploring different aspects of salt, and they carry many types--a wonderland of choice! Find your favorite everyday salt and put it in a lovely jar on your counter top, to use liberally, to taste. Find some special salts--I noticed two smoked salts I want to try for unusual dishes. You can do the same. Explore and experiment.

As always, what the Hunter-Gatherer in me is looking for is something real, something that resonates with what I hear from the voices of the Grandmothers deep down. Those of my ancestry, of yours, sought out real and delicious foods. And they went to great lengths to get salt, because somehow they knew they could not survive without it. And neither can we.

1 comment:

Mia said...

Yeah, we've been using Celtic Sea Salt for a while now. I think it tastes salter then bad salt. Umm... it makes a lot of food taste sooooo good. YUM!

-Mia

 
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