Culinary Salt – How Much Do You Know About It?
by Marq Blanks
Salt has been around for a millennium, being used as a preservative for food, especially meat. The harvest of salt is dated back to around 6000 BC from the surface of Lake Xiechi in China. Salt was also one of the funeral offerings found in Egyptian tombs. The Romans used salt as payment to soldiers, hence the term “salary” from the Latin root for salt “sal”. Today, it is used in various industries but the most common form in which salt is known to the public is culinary salt.
Salt is the chief ingredient of most foods and consumed in regular amounts in our diets; it is necessary for our health and development. The universal appeal for salt makes it an ideal medium for iodine enrichment to avoid mental retardation. Salt is used in seasoning, to pull out water or to enhance the natural flavor of a particular food.
Culinary salts are “mostly” pure and made up of small crystals containing a small amount of finely ground calcium silicate or sodium silico-aluminate to prevent the grains from caking together in humidity. There are numerous types of culinary salts, all derived from evaporation in some fashion. For instance, common table salt is made by pushing water into a salt deposit mine. In this process brine is formed, which is further evaporated leaving behind dried cube-like crystals, resembling granulated sugar. The salt is then refined further and made ready for culinary use.
Some of the most popular types of culinary salts include:
· Black Salt (Kala Namak in India) is the evaporated result of harad seeds boiled in a saltwater. It has a distinctive sulfur odor. Commonly used in Indian preparations as a savory flavoring. Strangely enough black salt is not black but a reddish gray.
· Fleur de Sel de Guérande is considered a superior grey cooking salt from France and sold as Fleur de Sel. The Fleur is harvested by hand in the marshy French coastal area of Guérande, Brittany. Only the top delicate crust layer becomes Fleur de Sel de Guérande. The lower layers are harvested much more briskly and produce “Grey” salt. In fact, the expected daily harvest of salt in the Guérande marshes is one pound of Fleur and 80 pounds of “grey”. The manual harvesting of Fleur de Sel Guérande is still done much the same way since 868 AD. This salt is best used as a finishing salt for sprinkling on food just prior to serving, so think of it as a quality condiment.
· Grey Salt (sel Gris) is very popular in France and is extracted from the coastal area of Guérande, Brittany. This organic salt is unrefined and has a light grey, almost purple color due to the color of the clay where it’s derived from. As compared to most culinary salts grey salt will feel “moist” to the finger tips. It is considered as one of the best salts available at a more reasonable price than it’s pricier counterpart Fleur de Sel de Guérande. Grey has established quite a reputation for itself as a culinary salt in the last few years.
· Hawaiian Sea Salt is extracted from Hawaiian waters and has a distinct pink color. It is mellower than regular salt.
· Kosher Salt is an additive-free coarse grain cooking salt used in the preparation of kosher meats for seasoning purpose and to draw blood out of the meat. This salt is the salt of choice by chefs since it dissolves easily and is lighter than regular table salt.
· Lite Salt is comprised of regular cooking salt and an additive, such as potassium chloride. These are used as culinary substitutes when there’s a health reason to do so.
· Pickling Salt is fine-grained, and very refined for purity, lacking iodine and anti-caking agents. Pickling salt needs to dissolve quickly, thus the fine grain. It is rare for pickling salt to be iodized, and turn foods darker. Anti-caking additives used in other salts will turn pickling brine cloudy.
· Popcorn Salt is a fine grained salt used that is used for its adherence to foods like popcorn and French fries. This is best used on oil popped popcorn or foods with an oil coating.
· Rock Salt is less refined and contains more minerals than regular table salt. It has a few culinary uses such as in mechanical ice cream makers and as a bed for serving certain types of shellfish.
Many people will argue about their favorite salt and the value of one over the other. In any case, it is worth your time and money to experiment.
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