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Why choose Sea Salt instead of Table Salt?

Posted by Vivienne Forristal at

Salt is a vital ingredient in every kitchen. We believe that Sea Salt is the more eco-friendly, healthier and sustainable choice.  And here are some reasons why.

We explore where it comes from, some environmental and nutritional factors to consider, how to use it in a healthy way - and an interesting recipe.

Definition

Image courtesy of Exsodus / FreeDigitalPhotos.netSALT is a white, crystalline, odourless, sharp-tasting substance, which is used as a condiment and as a preserving agent. In its pure state, salt consists of Sodium Chloride and is plentiful in the natural world, where it occurs in two forms.

Two types of Salt and their origin.

Sea salt is extracted from seawater by evaporation (30kg per cubic metre/66lb per cubic yard)

Rock salt is found in a crystalline state in the ground, as underground deposits from ancient oceans, and less commonly as a surface deposit at the site of dried salt lakes. It is then purified and refined and called Table salt.

Image courtesy of Exsodus/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Methods of production and environmental impact

The principle of production of sea salt is evaporation of the water from the sea brine. Modern sea-salt production is almost entirely found in Mediterranean and other warm, dry climates. In these areas, it is possible for the process to be accomplished entirely by using solar energy, and harvesting by hand. For large scale supply, or in other climates, fuel sources are also used.

Table salt is derived from Rock Salt, which is mined to extract it from underground deposits. Like any mining, this has an invasive and damaging effect on the natural environment. In its unrefined form Rock salt is widely used to de-ice roads. For human consumption it is purified and refined and called Table salt.

Sea Salt reduces the additives in your diet

Sea Salt contains no chemical additives. Table Salt is refined for use as a table condiment and various manmade products are added to it to keep it free-flowing e.g. magnesium carbonate or sodium silicoaluminate. There is a longer list of additives used as anti-caking agents, including sodium aluminosilicate and calcium aluminosilicate, both of which are permitted by the EU and USFDA to contain aluminium.

When using salt, you will consume fewer additives by choosing Sea Salt.

Sea Salt contains minerals

Minerals such as Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium are naturally present in Sea Salt, and due to minimal processing they are generally retained. Many Trace minerals e.g. Iodine, Copper, Iron, Sulphur can also be found in varying quantities. Table salt in its original form may also contain minerals but the heavy refining process strips many of them out. Higher levels of iodine may be present if it is labelled as iodised (available but not widely used in Ireland and UK) but this is because it has been added.

Sodium and Iodine

Both types of Salt contain the same amount of Sodium, although we may consume less in Sea Salt due to its stronger flavour.

Iodine is an essential mineral for thyroid health and cognitive development and deficiency in our diets can be a concern. Table salt can be Iodised as a measure to prevent Iodine deficiency – this is achieved by artificially adding Sodium Iodide, Sodium Iodate or Potassium Iodide – a practice that is mandatory in the US and some parts of Europe.  Some refined Sea Salts can also be iodised.

Iodine is available from our food. Unsurprisingly, dried seaweed is a rich natural source of Iodine. Edible types include kombu, kelp, nori, wakame, arame and bladderwrack. Other food sources of Iodine are baked potatoes, dried prunes, beans and legumes and especially haricot (or Navy) beans. The level of Iodine in these foods varies as it is determined by the amount of iodine present in the soil where they are grown. Needless to say, well-nourished organic soil will provide more of these essential nutrients. 

A matter of Taste

Salt enlivens and brings out the flavour in food. Many people prefer the intense bursts of flavour found in sea salt to the more homogenous uniform saltiness of Table salt. Each to their own!

Some chefs recommend the flakiness of Sea Salt for finishing dishes and to have on the table. One theory is that it is much easier to handle and sprinkle, and therefore you have more control over the seasoning. Sea Salt is even teamed with Caramel and Chocolate, e.g. Donal Skehan’s recipe for Salted Peanut Caramel Mud Pie. French chefs would traditionally choose Fleur de Sel for this, which is the crunchy extra white ‘flowers’ that form on top of the ordinary sea salt crystals.

For baking, a fine-grained free-flowing salt is easier to measure accurately, and these are widely available whether derived from Rock Salt (called Cooking salt or Table salt) or Sea Salt (Fine Sea Salt). For salting cooking water, it’s a personal choice as whatever you use will dissolve.

Healthy ways with Sea Salt

High salt intake has been linked with raised blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks, so whichever type you choose it is wise to use it in moderation. The World Health Organisation recommends that adults should consume less than 2,000 mg of sodium (5mg of salt) per day. Easy ways to use less salt

  • Concentrate on eating more wholegrains, vegetables and fruit and you will take in less salt, by default. Eating this type of plant-based, whole foods diet automatically reduces salt as you are crowding out all the hidden salt in processed, canned and convenience food.
  • Use low-salt vegetable stock cubes.
  • Unsalted butter is available if you wish to control how much salt you add to it
  • Make Gomasio, a mixture of roasted ground sesame seeds and sea salt. Use for seasoning at the table instead of adding salt when cooking rice, grains and vegetables - recipe below. This versatile seasoning is simple to make and delicious on salads, baked potatoes (which also provide iodine) and vegetables. 

Recipe: Gomasio

10-15 teaspoons organic sesame seeds (vary to taste)

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Place sesame seeds in a dry frying pan over moderate heat for a few minutes, stirring all the time until the sesame seeds turn a slightly deeper brown and smell toasted. Add sea salt and mix. Grind the mixture with a pestle and mortar, or in a coffee grinder if you have one.

Alternatives to Salt

When cooking pulses, omit salt and substitue a pinch of kombu seaweed at the start as this is reputed to speed up the cooking process, as well as providing Iodine.

For alternatives to salt, try miso, a nutritious savoury paste made from soya beans, rice, wheat or barley, and left to ferment. The natural soy sauces Tamari, which is aged over 2 years and gluten-free, and shoyu are useful alternatives but do contain salt.

Conclusion

Even though the health benefits of Sea salt can be variable according to the mineral content of its source, this is also true of Table or Rock salt. The production methods, however, are one of the more compelling reasons for choosing Sea salt as they are undoubtedly kinder to the environment and more sustainable. After all, a substance that, in its purest form, comes from the sea, and can be dried just by the sun and the wind – what could be more natural.


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