Pass the Gourmet Salt

  • By:  Kailee Meskimen

Salt adds complex flavors and minerals to your food. Whether it’s barbecued meat, roasted chicken, grilled pineapple, or even chocolate, high-quality sea salt’s nuances of flavor and texture create a culinary experience unmatchable by plain old table salt. Here’s a guide from the folks at Frontier Co-op, offering tips on how using different types of salt will transform your cooking skills.

Why does salt taste so good and why do we crave it so
Our sense of taste is hard-wired to detect and savor the salty flavors of the minerals and elemental compounds that our bodies need to maintain themselves. This compels us to seek out sodium, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and zinc, to name a few, in our diets. But the mineral-rich marine and mined salts that our early ancestors sought are very different from the industrially refined table salt we are all familiar with today.

Table salt contains only one mineral: sodium chloride. It is mined from underground deposits by digging wells and dissolving the salt crystals with pumped-in water. The resulting brine is pumped back up to the surface where it’s fed into machines that evaporate most of the water, then spin and heat the remaining slurry until the salt is dry. This method removes trace minerals in the salt and is more energy-intensive than most methods of sea salt collection, which is evaporated from large, shallow ponds of seawater.

Why it’s time to get adventurous with salt
Chefs, savvy cooks, food lovers, and dietary specialists recognize that there is a better way to use salts and minerals in our food. The specialty gourmet salts that are now trending in the culinary world provide more complex flavors and mineral profiles than table salt. For example, wood smoked salts (such as Alder Smoked Salt and Yakima™ Applewood Smoked Salt) and salts dusted with coconut shell charcoal (try Hawaiian Black Sea Salt) enhance grilled and barbequed food, while the saline bouquet of Fleur de Sel salt adds oceanic minerals to everything from seafood to salad dressings.

Since it’s given little or no further processing after evaporation, sea salt retains trace minerals after the evaporation. The dietary advantages to these gourmet salts is not only their enhanced mineral profiles, but that their flavors and colors can be so much more complex, interesting, and intense than table salt. This encourages us to use them more judiciously on our food, as we would cayenne pepper, than that old salt shaker of refined sodium chloride. Sea salt crystals also are larger than table salt crystals, and sea salt’s crunchy texture makes it a great finishing touch.

Four Benefits of Sea Salt
Salt is common yet extraordinary. What would our palates be without it? Though we enjoy it at nearly every meal, we give it relatively little attention. We took a closer look at the benefits of sea salt and found that there’s much more to this precious ingredient than you’ll find in a crusty shaker of table salt:

1. How it’s harvested
Sea salt is harvested through solar evaporation, with seawater left to evaporate naturally from large, shallow ponds. The process of solar evaporation is very slow—it can take years for the sun and wind to crystallize the saltwater—but it is less environmentally invasive than the process of mining salt from underground deposits.

2. How it’s (not) processed
With little or no further processing once evaporated, sea salt retains trace minerals and other components. These elements (which include nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium) add flavor and often color to the salt. These elements also add subtle flavor that varies according to the seawater from which the salt is harvested. Sometimes they give sea salts their defining properties, such as the tiny bits of clay that give gray sea salt its color, or the red volcanic clay of Hawaiian red sea salt.

3. How it tastes
Although sea salt and processed table salt contain about the same amount of sodium—so neither offers an advantage for those concerned with sodium consumption—many consider the naturally harvested, minimally processed, additive-free, and mineral-containing sea salt to be the tastier choice.

4. How it’s used
Sea salt is incredibly versatile. Use plain, granular sea salt for cooking and baking because the uniform grain ensures accurate, consistent measuring. A fine gourmet salt such as fleur de sel (the “caviar of salts”) makes a wonderful condiment due to its more complex and nuanced flavor. Try it in freshly blended vinaigrette over tender greens.

So, let’s “pass” on the overly processed iodized table salt and give the world’s most popular condiment the respect it deserves. Try our gourmet salts, organic seafood seasoning blend, or everyday coarse sea salt to discover the benefits of sea salt for yourself.

Learn more about Frontier Co-op’s Gourmet Salts at www.frontiercoop.com, where you’ll also find many varieties of pepper and other spices.

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