Variety is the spice of life..
But so is salt..
From novice chef to Gordon Ramsay it’s the one culinary input both can recognize. Either it’s too salty or needs more salt.
Is there a difference between ordinary table salt and sea salt that you might be seeing in a lot of places? We are told to avoid salt but in the case of sea salt is it something you should actually INCLUDE in your diet??
The Common Seasoning
Salt has been a part of the human experience pretty much since day one and it remains a staple of our diet. There is not a restaurant in the world that you will go into that does not have salt and pepper on the table, two things that just always go together as much as me and this guy used to..
* FUN FACT: Chucky from the Childs Play movies was based on My Buddy
how’s that for getting sidetracked? And now back to salt…
Salts potential as a food preservative has been known for thousands and thousands of years. Very recently an ancient salt works operation has been discovered in Romania near the site of a salt spring. The evidence indicates that the neolithic people of the Precucuteni culture were boiling the salt-laden spring water to extract the salt as far back as 6500 BC or around the time Larry King graduated high school.
They used a process involving briquetage which was a ceramic material for making evaporation vessels and supporting pillars for extracting the spring water. Kind of like my 8th grade science fair project that my Dad entirely made on his own..
There are also 6000 year old salt works in China and the salt works just discovered in Romania are regarded as responsible for the rapid growth in population and development of the society.
Salt Of Today
The regular ol’ salt of today is much different than what these neolithic societies were producing. We’ll get to sea salt in a moment but need to look at table salt as it is the most abundant version of salt we consume.
Hundreds of millions of tonnes of salt are produced each year however only 17.5 % of that is for consumption.
If you can think back to high school science you’ll remember that table salt is formed when sodium atoms and chlorine atoms react to form ions. Sodium atoms have 11 electrons and chlorine has 17. In order to be stable the sodium atom must lose one electron and the chlorine must gain one. If the sodium atom gives one to the chlorine they will both be stable.
And that’s how table salt if formed, Goodnight everyone!
Ok if you’re still awake after that I do need to note that table salt does come from natural sources of underground salt deposits but is heavily processed removing most of the minerals.
The crude oil flake leftovers of the mined salt are cooked at 1200 degrees fahrenheit which causes it to lose the majority of the 80 important elements that are naturally present. Additives are also put in to help avoid clumping.
Dangers Of Table Salt
Since table salt has been stripped of its nutrients there are other synthetic chemicals added back in. Basically at this point you are eating an iodized salt that includes:
- manufactured forms of solo-co-aluminate
- sodium bicarbonate
- anti caking agents
- potassium iodide
- aluminum derivatives
Natural iodine which is of key importance is also lost during manufacturing. This can cause thyroid problems leading to growth and metabolism issues so commercial salt manufacturers added in synthetic iodine.
The big issue with table salt when it comes to your health has to do with blood pressure which most people tend to be aware of. Blood pressure goes up because the blood is attempting to get toxic elements away from the heart as fast as possible.
Table salt causes us to retain water and other fluids and many conditions such as diabetes, obesity and gout can be made much worse with excessive table salt consumption.
Shake Shake Shake
It’s important here to recognize that the problem with table salt isn’t limited to just that shaker on your table. If you consume packaged, processed and manufactured goods you are consuming sodium chloride and a host of other preservatives in HORRIFIC amounts. Just have a look back at the Chucky picture when I say horrific.
Such as the water retention, salt and these preservatives lead to swelling along with:
- major kidney, thyroid and liver problems
- heart disease
- strained elimination systems
- muscle cramps
- water retention
- heart failure
Table salt is also rough on the circulatory system and nervous system while providing an rough go to the lymph system in the body. Also just as bad it is highly addictive leading to cravings for it.
What Is Sea Salt?
Sea salt is simply evaporated sea water. It has been produced for thousands of years and the process remains pretty much unchanged to this day.
- A series of interlocking ponds are created that are exposed to sun and wind
- as the water evaporates the salt concentrates and is moved along the chain of ponds closer to the harvesting facility
- Once ready for harvesting a truck with a rake attachment breaks up the salt bed
- Salt is transferred to trucks which carry the salt to a washing facility
- the salt is rinsed in a brine solution to remove calcium and impurities and then the actual local water to remove magnesium chloride and what’s left is 99.8% pure sea salt
- The finished salt is transferred to outdoor mounds where a crust develops which protects the sea salt underneath.
- Depending on location the start to final boxing can take up to 5 years!
Here’s a picture of the salt mounds with developed crust protecting the sea salt (photo cred: Boris Kasimov)
Are There Health Benefits To Sea Salt?
So with more attention on sea salt these days and it being more readily available in any grocery store are there actual health benefits that come from using it?
The truth is when it comes to restricting sodium sea salt is not going to help you with that. There seems to be some confusion that sea salt is somehow lower in sodium, which it is not.
The advantage sea salt has is that’s it is a naturally made substance that would be more recognized by the body. Sea salt does contain 82 essential trace minerals including:
The problem however is that these minerals are not exclusive to sea salt. Their are plenty of natural foods that contain higher quantities of these minerals but without the sodium content such as kale or broccoli.
Sea salt has become a nice feature for food manufacturers to be able to add to products because they can claim their product is “more natural”. Chefs and cooks also love sea salt because of its rougher, coarse texture which adds some texture and substance to foods.
If it comes down to using a pinch or two for cooking or seasoning sea salt over table salt will be a much better choice. It’s all about making the best choices in particular situations. Ideally you wouldn’t need added salt to make something taste better but salt is used in cooking as it can magnify flavors. Using the appropriate amount is a skill so that you are indeed tasting the food and not just the salt.
Chris Kresser shares some interesting information that we can be consuming 3000-7000 mg of sodium or 1.5-3 teaspoons of salt per day. Some sodium is necessary especially those who are active and can potentially lose a lot through sweat.
Chris also shares that white salt need not be our go to source and that natural sodium comes from sea vegetables, fish, shellfish and meat. We can also find natural sodium in things like beets, carrots, celery, spinach and turnips.
Famous for its slight pink color this type of rock salt from Pakistan is also known as Halite.
Himalayan salt contains a lot of trace minerals similar to sea salt as it is technically sea salt itself. I wouldn’t call it a novelty but it’s an interesting addition into your culinary routine and would make a better choice over table salt.
Wrapping It Up
I’ve always used sea salt over table salt as I’ve felt it is a superior choice. I’ve learned over the last little while it is a bit better choice and not a magic bullet super food.
Again referring to the extremely intelligent Chris Kresser if you are not at risk for needing to reduce or eliminate or reduce sodium, seasoning your food to taste should be fine for the average person. This is where reaching for the sea salt has its advantages.
As I said earlier if your food is bland you might want to look at including those foods that contain natural sodium and look to season your foods with fresh ground pepper or dried herbs like oregano or basil.
Salt is one of our biggest tastes and also cravings so look to include natural forms of sodium in your diet and at all costs try to avoid packaged and manufactured foods.
Tell me in the comments below what you like to use to season food and any experiences you have had with sea salt. Also make sure to get on the email list by signing up below to get all kinds of great nutrition information delivered right to your inbox by magic!