What’s So Great About Sea Salt?
Sea salt, Dead Sea Salt, Himalayan Pink Salt, table salt, French salt, Kosher salt…….what’s the difference?
Salt, in essence, is a combination of two chemicals : sodium and chloride. The way these two chemicals are put together, and the other minerals that accompany it have a lot to do with how it is used and how “good” it is.
Table Salt vs Sea Salt
Salt is the most widely used seasoning in the US. Not only do we cover our vegetables and meats with it, but it is in virtually every processed food in the grocery store. (see ingredients for the word “sodium”).
There are two basic differences between table salt and sea salt: where it comes from and its ingredients.
Table salt comes from underground mines. The salt is removed from the mine and undergoes extensive processing. Sodium and chloride are separated, along with other minerals contained in the mined salt. The sodium and chloride are then reassembled, refined, and ground down into fine grains. Because the other minerals are removed, and because it is ground so fine, a teaspoon of table salt contains more “salt” than a teaspoon of coarse sea or Kosher salt. There are some who say that the processing of the salt renders it “dead” and the body does not process it the same way as natural unrefined sodium chloride, which is the reason for the prevalence of high blood pressure and heart disease today.
An anti-caking agent, (usually calcium silicate but it could be ferric ammonium citrate, silicon dioxide, sodium ferrocyanide, magnesium silicate, magnesium carbonate, propylene glycol, aluminum calcium silicate, sodium aluminosilicate (also called sodium silicoaluminate), or calcium phosphate) is added as well to keep the salt from sticking to itself. And because the anit-caking agent is bitter tasting, a form of sugar, either dextrose or glucose is added to hide the taste.
Iodine is also added. Not because “natural salt” contains iodine, but because the government decided you need it. In the 1920′s people who lived in the Great Lakes region began developing goiters (enlargements of the thyroid gland in your neck) because the lack of iodine in the soil caused an iodine deficiency in the food which caused an iodine deficiency in the people there. The government thought “Hey, if we put iodine in the salt, which people use a ton of, then there wouldn’t be anymore people with goiters, and that would be good because goiters are disturbing to look at.” And iodized salt was born. The first company to market it was Morton, (of course) the salt people. This iodized idea caught on in South Africa, Kazakhstan, India and other countries. This has drastically reduced the goiter problem in those places.
Even though the iodine problem only existed in the Great Lakes region of the US in the 1920′s, it was marketed to the entire country who were scared of the ugly goiter pictures, and so they purchased the iodized salt. Today, because of the ionization of salt, iodine deficiency is virtually gone.
Humans need only 150micrograms of iodine per day to maintain thyroid health. There are other foods that contain iodine. Most store bought breads have iodized dough ingredients as does any food from the sea (sea fish, seaweed, shrimp). Iodine is also found in vegetables, dairy, and eggs. If you are a vegan (or even if you’re not), you should include some form of kelp or seaweed in your diet, which is one of the best sources of iodine. (1/4 tsp of kelp contains 3000 micrograms–we only need 150/day) A good excuse to eat some sushi (california rolls, of course)!
Sea salt is harvested from the sea (surprised?) and contains sodium and chloride in a natural form as well as many beneficial minerals–over 75 of them. The salt is usually dried in the sun and harvested. Natural sea salt has nothing added. It is usually ground into coarse or fine pieces. It does not contain a significant source of iodine.
Sea salt should look slightly grey (that means there are trace minerals in it).
Sea salt just tastes better, in my opinion. It has a more pleasant flavor when added to foods or on foods.
Because there is less “sodium” by percentage in sea salt (because it also contains minerals) you end up consuming less, which is healthier.
**on a side note about sodium and blood pressure: 25 – 30% of all individuals (higher in blacks than whites) are “sodium sensitive”. This means they retain fluid in such a significant amount that it raises blood pressure and puts them at risk for dozens of diseases like heart disease and organ failure. You wouldn’t know this unless you check you blood pressure regularly as there are no symptoms of high blood pressure. (just go to any pharmacy or fire station and get it done for free)Humans only need 500 mg of sodium/day, but we get more like 3000! You should try to keep your sodium intake to under 2500. (tip–one visit to any fast food restaurant or one frozen dinner will usually put you over)
So if you have high blood pressure, it would help to see if reducing the salt in your diet lowers it. That may be all it takes to get your blood pressure in the healthy rage of 120/80 or below. A low sodium diet contains less than 2000 mg sodium/day (very low sodium diets 1000-1500 mg/day) Read your labels!
One story from my nursing history was a woman who was sent to the hospital with fluid on her heart and lungs from eating a jar of pickled herring! She was obviously salt sensitive!
Be careful of the label that says “sea salt” as some manufacturers process the sea salt and still are able to call it “sea salt”. The only way to know is to contact the manufacturer or look for the word “unrefined”.
So in short table salt is:
- highly processed (never healthy)
- contains chemical anti-caking ingredients
- contains sugar to mask the anti-caking ingredient taste
- contains iodine which we need, but are probably getting elsewhere
- you will ingest more sodium chloride tsp per tsp than sea or other unrefined coarse salts
- has a very strong pungent salt flavor when used for cooking
Sea salt is:
- not processed
- contains nothing artificial and nothing added
- contains dozens of necessary minerals that your body needs
- tastes great in and on food
- does not contain iodine
- has a slightly lower sodium content and you use less because of the mineral content & coarseness of the grain
- may lose some of the unique flavor when dissolved in cooking, but is great for added salt after
There are other healthy salts as well:
- Dead Sea salt: comes from the Dead Sea in the Mediteranean and has healing and rejuvenating properties. Studies have been done using dead Sea salt on skin conditions like psoriasis and sinus infections and it has amazing healing power. It is also used for blemishes, rashes, wrinkles and scars. You don’t eat dead Sea salt, just use it on the skin and to bathe with.
- Himalayan Pink Salt: comes from the Himalayan Mountains and contains 84 minerals and trace elements which gives it its pink color and increased health benefits. This salt is used in gourmet cooking and for cosmetic and healing purposes. Facial steams for all respiratory ailments (asthma, bronchitis, sinus infections etc.) are used with great success. Add several teaspoons to a bowl of steaming water, create a tent with a towel and breathe the steam for 10 – 20 minutes.
- Kosher salt: contains no artificial preservatives or additives and is certified “Kosher” by authorities in such matters. Kosher salt can be from mines or from the sea and it usually is a coarser grain that table salt. It is the coarse grain that makes it the chosen salt when “Koshering” meats. (Finer grains would run off the meat, whereas Kosher coarse salt sticks to draw out the blood and make the meat able to be prepared in a “Kosher” manner.) Cooks like to use it because of the flavor, but it can’t be used in baking because it does not dissolve quickly.
- Fleur De Sel De Camargue French Sea Salt: harvested from the south of France, it is sea salt for the snooty. Each “raker” rakes the salt from a certain place in certain weather conditions, and seals the container with his signature. This salt is flakey rather than granular and is used in gourmet cooking as a finishing salt that gets sprinkled over the tops of prepared foods. (probably not popcorn)
If you use a lot of salt in your home and you are using table processed salt, you may want to try some options other than table salt. If you’ve never tasted unprocessed sea salt, you may not know what you’re missing–including healthy minerals!