Most salts are similar to each other, consisting of sodium chloride and a small number of minerals. Salt is arguably one of the most important culinary ingredients in the world. Without it, many dishes would be bland and unappealing. However, not all salt is the same. There are many varieties to choose from.
What is salt?
Salt is a crystalline mineral composed of two elements: sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl). Your body needs sodium and chlorine because they help your brain and nerves send electrical impulses. Most of the world’s salt is extracted in salt mines or by evaporation of seawater and other mineral-rich waters.
Salt is used for a variety of purposes, most commonly to add flavor to food. Salt is also used as a preservative because bacteria do not grow well in a salt-rich environment. The reason why salt is often considered unhealthy in large quantities is that it can raise blood pressure.
Studies show that reducing salt intake can lower blood pressure by up to 5.4 mm Hg (1). However, several meta-analyses have shown that a diet low in sodium (5 g/day) is associated with increased cardiovascular events and mortality.
The vast majority of sodium in the Western diet comes from processed foods. If you eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods, you don’t need to worry about adding salt to your meals.
Refined salt (common table salt)
The most common salt is regular table salt. This salt is usually highly refined, meaning that it is heavily ground to remove most impurities and trace elements. The problem with highly ground salt is that it can clump together. For this reason, various substances called anti-caking agents are added to make it flow freely.
Table salt is almost pure sodium chloride-97% or higher-but in many countries it also contains added iodine. The addition of iodine to table salt is the result of successful public health preventive measures against iodine deficiency, which is common in many parts of the world.
Iodine deficiency is a major cause of hypothyroidism, mental retardation, and various other health problems. Therefore, if you choose not to eat regular table salt fortified with iodine, make sure you eat other foods high in iodine, such as fish, dairy products, eggs, and seaweed.
Sea salt is produced by evaporating seawater. Like table salt, it is basically just sodium chloride. However, depending on the source and processing method, it usually contains various trace elements such as potassium, iron, and zinc.
The darker the sea salt, the higher the concentration of impurities and trace elements. However, due to ocean pollution, sea salt can also contain trace amounts of heavy metals such as lead. Sea salt also contains microplastics-microscopic remnants of plastic waste. The health implications of microplastics in food are still unclear, but some researchers believe the health risks are low at current levels.
Unlike regular refined salt, sea salt is often coarse because it is less ground. If you sprinkle it on your food after cooking, it can have a different mouthfeel and cause a stronger burst of flavor than refined salt. The trace elements and impurities contained in sea salt can also affect its flavor, but this varies greatly depending on the brand.
Himalayan pink salt
Himalayan salt is mined in Pakistan. It comes from the Hebra salt mine, the second-largest salt mine in the world. Himalayan salt often contains traces of iron oxide (rust), which gives it its pink color.
It also contains small amounts of calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium, making it slightly lower in sodium than regular table salt. Many people prefer Himalayan salt to other types. However, the main difference is simply the color, which can make any dish attractive.
Kosher salt has a large grain size, which makes it suitable for the kosher process. Traditional Jewish law requires that blood be drawn from meat before it is eaten. Because kosher salt has a flaky, coarse structure, it is particularly effective at extracting blood.
The main difference between regular salt and kosher salt is the flake structure. Chefs believe that Kosher salt is easier to pick up with your fingers and spread on food because of its large flake size.
Kosher salt will have a different texture and flavor, but if you allow the salt to dissolve into the food, there really won’t be any difference compared to regular table salt.
However, kosher salt is less likely to contain additives such as anti-caking agents and iodine. That said, keep in mind that a teaspoon of kosher salt weighs much less than a teaspoon of regular salt. Don’t substitute one for the other in a 1:1 ratio, otherwise, your food may end up too salty or too bland.
Celtic salt is a type of sea salt that originally became popular in France. It has a grayish color and also contains some water, which makes it quite moist. Celtic salt contains trace amounts of minerals and slightly less sodium than regular table salt.
Differences in taste
Gourmets and chefs primarily choose salt for its taste, texture, color, and convenience. Impurities, including trace elements, can affect both the color and taste of salt. Grain size also affects how the salty flavor hits your tongue. Salt with larger grains can have a stronger flavor and stay on the tongue longer.
However, if you allow the salt to dissolve in the dish, there shouldn’t be much difference in flavor between plain refined salt and other gourmet salts. If you like to sprinkle salt on your food with your fingers, then dry salt with large grains is much easier to handle.
Which is the healthiest?
So far, there have been no studies comparing the health effects of different types of salt. However, if such a study were conducted, it is unlikely that major differences would be found. Most salts are similar to each other; they consist of sodium chloride and a small number of minerals.
The main advantage of choosing less processed salts is that you avoid the additives and anti-caking agents that are often found in regular table salt. At the end of the day, salt is salt, its main purpose is to provide flavor, but it is not a medicine.