Friday, October 23, 2009

Making Nice With Salt

Too many times I hear friends say, "not too much salt!" or, "oh, I don't add salt to anything" or, "salt is bad for you", to which I usually respond, "SALT IS GOOD!!"  And it is.  Let me explain why:

1) Salt enhances food's flavour.  Salt brings to food far more than one of the five basic taste sensations (sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami). Sweets taste sweeter. Salt masks bitter tastes, making naturally bitter foods like chocolate and broccoli become delicious.  It brings flavours together, making them play in unison far better than without.  I always recommend cooking with either sea salt or kosher salt versus table salt (or iodized salt).  Kosher salt is additive-free, and has a lighter taste than iodized salt.  Sea salt is, well, made from salt water; it contains trace minerals that aren't found in mined salts (Kosher and iodized are both mined).

2) You actually need salt in your diet.  Sodium cannot be produced within the human body so it is important to the diet. Sodium helps regulate water balance ph and osmotic pressure.  Chloride is equally important in the human diet as it helps the blood to carry carbon dioxide; potassium absorption; helps in digestion; and conserves acid-base balance.

3) Beyond taste, salt can be used as a preservative, texture aid, binder, fermentation control, and colour developer.  It's multi-purposed fun!
Now, don't go all willy-nilly and start adding heaps of salt to everything you do.  I'm not saying that.  Remember it's easy to add and almost impossible to remove.  When you're cooking, TASTE EVERYTHING.  Taste it as you go along and taste it before you serve it.  When you say to yourself, "I think it's missing something", try adding a pinch of salt.  After that, you might need acidity or sweetness or sour or bitterness.

One thing to keep in mind is some other food items are already salty, so be careful how much more salt you need (if at all).  Soy sauce is salty, as are capers and olives.  Some cheeses like halloumi or parmesan are salty.  Bacon can be salty, too (mmmm, bacon).

Lastly, don't be offended if you've made a meal you think is perfectly seasoned and someone asks for more salt.  Our palettes are all different.  Let people add whatever they like.  And, don't cook to the lowest common denominator (i.e. "if it's bland, everyone will like it") - you'll just always be serving flavourless food.  

So there it is, folks.  Don't be afraid of salt.  It's a good thing.  A great thing.  And it doesn't have to make food taste 'salty' - it can make food taste amazing.


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  2. kudos! and of course I am all over the physiology component :) Your body NEEDS salt! It helps to carry things, like glucose, in and out of your cells, it creates an electrochemical gradient in your nerve cells, etc, etc. But, like everything else, it should be taken in moderation.