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Salt Facts

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Salt!

We all need it. It’s the only rock we eat, and is the most important ingredient in our cooking and for the taste of our food. When you purchase good ingredients for your dishes you want them to taste their best.

Why then, would you use ordinary salt?

Yes, there is a difference! There is so much more to salt than the identical grains of bitter sameness that have dominated the market for the last 100 years or so. It wasn’t always like that, and thanks to the efforts of a handful of dedicated artisanals, salt, in all of its myriad forms, has made a startling but welcome comeback.

Indeed, top TV chef Michael Chiarello is quoted as saying…..

“If you change one thing in your kitchen, make it the salt”

Most people probably think of salt as simply that white granular food seasoning found in a salt shaker on virtually every dining table.

It is that, but it is also far more….

It is an essential element in the diet of not only humans but of animals, and even of many plants. It is one of the most effective and most widely used of all food preservatives. Its industrial and other uses are almost without number. 

In the body, salt is as important to humans as water or air, in fact each of us contain from four to eight ounces of salt. Salt helps maintain the normal volume of blood in the body and also helps keep the correct balance of water in and around the cells and tissues. It is also necessary for the formation and proper function of nerve fibers, which carry impulses to and from the brain, and plays an important part in the digestion of food and is essential in making the heart beat correctly.

Its chemical make-up was determined in 1807 by British scientist Sir Humphrey Davy.

The sodium found in salt is an essential nutrient. Sodium, together with calcium, magnesium and potassium, helps regulate the body’s metabolism. In combination with potassium, it regulates the acid-alkaline balance in our blood and is also necessary for proper muscle functioning. When we don’t get enough sodium chloride, we experience muscle cramps, dizziness, exhaustion and, in extreme cases, convulsions and death. Salt is essential to our well being.

For years, many researchers have claimed that salt threatens public health, mostly by contributing to high blood pressure. Recently, though, other researchers have begun to change salt’s reputation. A recent review of salt studies conducted over the past two decades concluded that there’s no reason for doctors to recommend reducing sodium intake for people with normal blood pressure. It may be that most of us are protected from excessive salt by our kidneys, which regulate the body’s sodium level and eliminate any excess.

All salts come from a sea, but not all salts come from the oceans we know today. The oceans that once covered the earth left a generous supply of salt beds and underground deposits which provide pure salt unpolluted by modern mankind. Crystalline salt deposits are found on every continent, from oceans that contained an estimated four-and-a-half million cubic miles of salt.

There are two basic methods for removing salt from the ground: room-and-pillar mining and solution mining. In room-and-pillar mining, shafts are sunk into the ground, and miners break up the rock salt with drills. The miners remove chunks of salt, creating huge rooms that are separated by pillars of salt. The room-and-pillar method requires that about half the salt be left behind as pillars. In solution mining, a well is drilled into the ground, and two pipes are lowered into the hole. The pipes consist of a small central pipe inside a larger pipe. The brine is either shipped as a liquid or evaporated in special devices called vacuum pans to form solid salt. Sodium chloride, or common table salt, is the chemical compound NaCl—one sodium ion bound to one chlorine ion (chemically, it is 60.663 percent elemental chlorine [Cl] and 39.337 percent sodium [Na]). Saltiness is a taste produced by the presence of sodium chloride (and to a lesser degree other salts). The ions of salt, especially sodium, can pass directly through ion channels in the tongue. In chemical terms, salt is one of the most basic molecules on earth. It’s also one of the most plentiful. It has been estimated that salt deposits under the state of Kansas alone could supply the entire world’s salt needs for the next 250,000 years. Salt occurs naturally in many parts of the world as the mineral halite (rock salt) and as mixed evaporites in salt lakes. Underground salt deposits are found in both bedded sedimentary layers and domal deposits (hence, salt mines). Some salt is on the surface, the dried-up residue of ancient seas (like the famed Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah). Seawater contains an inexhaustible supply of salt (salt represents about 77 percent of the Total Dissolved Solids in the water).  Sodium chloride crystals are cubic in form—the salt crystal is often used as an example of crystalline structure. It varies in color from colorless, when pure, to white, grey or brownish, depending on what trace minerals are in the salt deposits. Growing up, most of us were familiar with table salt and perhaps kosher salt for cooking (margarita salt is simply a coarse grind of salt, like kosher salt). If you made ice cream at home with an older-style machine, you used rock salt. Ten years ago, few people in America beyond French chefs had heard of sea salt; those who did were educated though European travel or French cooking. 

But just how did these little white crystals come to such prominence?

What seems like such an inexpensive commodity has been used since pre-historic times as currency, medicine and an enhancer and preservative of food. In cooking, salt enlivens the taste of food, intensifying and balancing flavors. Salt has long been used in pickling and curing vegetables, meats and fish and for cheesemaking. Salt has played a prominent role in religious ritual in many cultures, symbolizing purity. 

Salt in the 21st century means a steady supply of deliciously flavored sea salts from all over the world. The basic necessity has gone gourmet. Today, sea salt is perhaps one of the biggest national gourmet obsessions since balsamic vinegar. Led by a new generation of American chefs who have been using it in dishes sweet and savory and as a garnish on everything from heirloom tomatoes to desserts and petit fours; it’s a logical evolution. 

These days, a restaurant worth its salt will have a cellar of sea salt on the table: no 20th century salt shaker will do. Each sea salt has a distinctive taste and texture, based on trace mineral content, crystal shape and size. The complex salt flavors and textures, so different from common table salt, add a distinctive dimension to food, actually acting as a condiment. Some salts are so beautiful, they serve as a garnish as well, a sprinkling on the food or on the plate enhancing the beauty of the presentation. 

"A grain of salt" may be a recipe for skepticism. But there can be no doubt about how salt has seasoned history.

And what a selection of salts we have to choose from nowadays!

There are traditional salts such as Trapani, made in the same salt-pans the Romans used 2,000 years ago, there are hand-crafted flake salts such as Alaska Pure from the ultra-clean Gulf of Alaska, and there are traditional Fleur de Sels (Flower of Salt) from France and beyond. There are infused salts with a wide range of flavors from blueberry to coffee, from onion to habanero pepper. There are smoked salts, some produced using methods going back as far as the days of the Vikings, and some exquisite smoked salts produced more recently.

Salts of the Earth has sourced the very best salts produced in the world today and are proud to offer well in excess of 100 salts from more than 30 countries.

These unrefined salts each have their own history, distinct characteristics and taste. There’s the world’s first geothermal produced salt from Iceland, salt from long forgotten and dried up prehistoric lakes that sit under vast areas of the USA, and then there is the ancient magical salt of Lake Afar in Africa, produced by nature from hot winds and formed from the saltiest body of water on earth. We carry salts from deserts, mountains and from across the seven seas.

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