6 Different Types Of Salt & How To Use Rock Salt For Cooking
Have you ever forgotten to add salt to the dish you were cooking? If you have, then you surely know the difference salt can make. We have all heard the story of the king who banished his daughter from his kingdom for comparing her love for him to salt. He understood her when salt vanished from his kingdom and even the best of dishes didn’t seem palatable. Salt is the one ingredient whose presence or absence drastically alters the taste of food. For people used to the taste of salt, its absence makes savoury food inedible.
The common salt that is present in most of our food is a compound of sodium and chloride. Both sodium and chlorine are essential for our bodies and help in the performance of various vital functions. The combination of sodium and chlorine helps to maintain a healthy balance of water in the brain. It is also essential in helping the brain and nerves send electrical impulses to communicate among themselves. It stops muscle cramps and regulates blood pressure. Salt is used as a food preservative as a salt-rich environment hinders the growth of bacteria.
Luckily for us, it is one of the commonest minerals on earth and there is no chance of salt running out. It is both mined from the earth and extracted from seawater by evaporation and refined for use. There are subtle differences in salt obtained from different sources, different areas, and sometimes created with artificial additives. At other times, salt has impurities in it that give it a slight difference in taste or colour.
There are different kinds of salt that are used in cooking, pickling, brining and preservation of food. Let us look at some types of salt that are in use in different parts of the world.
1. Table Salt: This is the most common form of salt that is used for cooking and seasoning at the dining table. Table salt is refined to remove all impurities from it. Food grade table salt is pure sodium chloride (97% or higher). It is milled down to very small particles of regular crystals. Sometimes, table salt has additives in it, most commonly iodine. This is a cheap and sure way of adding iodine to diet. Iodine deficiency is very common in populations where seafood is not consumed. Insufficient iodine in your diet may cause goitre, hypothyroidism and mental retardation. Adding iodine to salt ensures that no one remains deficient in this important nutrient. Sometimes, table salt also contains an additive to prevent clumping. This is done to keep the salt free-flowing as table salt is usually dispensed from shakers.
2. Sea salt: Also known as bay salt or solar salt, sea salt is obtained when sea water is evaporated and salt is left as a residue. The evaporation can be either natural solar evaporation or artificial vacuum evaporation. The salt obtained by Sun-fuelled evaporation is pricier than the vacuum-evaporated ones. The processing is minimal as compared to table salt or refined salt. Depending on the area and the process of refining, sea salt may contain traces of minerals such as iron, potassium and zinc. Some sea salts may have a higher concentration of impurities and be darker in colour. Cooks sometimes prefer sea salt as they believe that it makes food taste better, although chemically there is no difference between sea salt and other forms of salt. Sea salt does not have anti-caking agents added and so may have a clumped texture which gives a stronger burst of flavour when sprinkled on food. It is less ground than table salt and so, the crystals are larger and more irregular. The trace minerals that are present can also give a slightly different taste to different brands of sea salt.
3. Himalayan Pink Salt: This salt is mined from the Khewra mines in Pakistan which are the second largest salt mines in the world. Rocky in texture, the slight pink colour of the salt comes from trace amounts of iron oxide present in it. The amount is negligible and quite safe for consumption. This salt also contains small amounts of calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron. Those with sensitive palates may notice a slight difference in the flavour, but most have not found any difference. Due to the pink colour, it gives a decorative look so it can be sprinkled on food just before serving.
Salt lamps made from this type of salt is popular as an ioniser. Solid lumps of salt are polished and hollowed out and lights are fixed inside them to make these lamps. They are said to neutralise the effects of electromagnetic ions inside the room when they are lit.
4. Kosher Salt: Kosher means ritually fit or pure salt. All salts that do not have any additives and are unprocessed are kosher. Another word that is related to this is koshering salt. In some religions, kosher dietary laws dictate consumption of meat only after the blood has been removed from it. This is done by salting the meat with koshering salt which draws out the blood and renders the meat kosher. Since this type of salt has larger grains, they are not absorbed in the meat during the koshering process and can be washed off after drawing out the blood so the meat does not become overly salty. Koshering salt is used for cooking as well as seasoning.
5. Fleur-de-sel or Flower of Salt: This is the cream of the salt world, so to say. One of the most expensive salts available, Fleur-de-sel, is a salt that forms as a thin crusty layer on the surface of sea water in the Guerande region of France. It needs a sunny and windy environment to form and is said to form only when the wind blows east. The name has been given because the crystals of the salt forms in the pattern of flowers. It is harvested by drawing seawater into basins where it is allowed to evaporate naturally. Most of the salt thus precipitated goes to the bottom but some crystals float and forms a delicate layer of flaky crystals on the surface. It is harvested by hand using traditional methods. It is raked in from the water and put in boxes and allowed to dry in the sun. It is then transported to the factories for packing. Fleur-de-sel is harvested in France. It is used as a finishing salt by chefs.
6. Rock Salt: Rock salt is salt mined from the salt deposits present underground in many parts of the earth. These deposits were formed when ancient water bodies, which had a large salt content, dried up and left the salt behind. These salt deposits were covered with sediment over time and remained underground until they were mined for the salt. Known as halide, it is sodium chloride with traces of many other elements in it. Rock salt is ground and refined to be used as table salt and used for cooking. Sometimes, minerals present in rock salt mined from different areas give them a distinctive taste. As an example, black salt, mined in the Himalayas have a significant amount of sulphur which gives it a pungent smell which is used in flavouring specific dishes.
Cooking with rock salt
While cooking with rock salt we need to make sure that it is food grade. Industrial rock salt is sold for making ice cream and has other uses as well. Food grade rock salt can be used for cooking, just like refined iodised salt. The amount of salt added needs to be adjusted according to taste. It is used for cooking during rituals as it is considered pure. Himalayan black salt (kala namak) is used as a seasoning as well as a flavouring agent in salads, raitas, chaats. It can also be sprinkled on roasts and tandooris to give it a distinct pungent flavour. Some chefs also use this salt to give their food an eggy flavour without using eggs. However, it needs to be used in very small quantities as the flavour is very strong and can be overwhelming otherwise.
Don’t overdo it
Although the use of salt is universal and it is essential for us, too much of it can be harmful. Elevated blood pressure and water retention are two of the ill effect of too much salt in the diet. WHO recommends less than 5g of salt as the daily requirement for adults and less for children. For people suffering from high blood pressure, the quantity of salt taken should be even less. They can flavour the food with a squeeze of lemon and other spices and there are low sodium salts in the market which they can use, too. Processed food contains very high amount of salt and should be consumed in limited quantity.
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