Common table salt – Sodium Chloride
Salt enhances flavour – it has the unique ability to elevate tastes that we delight in to a higher level and to help us discern the more subtle flavours abounding in any given dish. The adjective “bland” would not exist were it not for salt. The combination of sodium and chloride accentuates flavours that would otherwise remain a faint echo of the foods true potential. It is the difference between serving a dish in black and white or in shades of varying colours – from techni-colour to the more subtle hues of the colour spectrum. The good cook will always add some salt to a savoury dish. Even sweet dishes call for a pinch of salt to help bring out the flavour of eggs, milk and sugar. Salt also acts as an excellent medium with which to preserve food (see Chapter on Preserved Food).
Adding just the right proportion of salt to our dishes is yet another example of how our senses are quite adept and telling us how much is safe to consume. A tea-spoon of raw table-salt taken neat is particularly vile because such a concentration of sodium-chloride is harmful. Anyone who has had the misfortune of swallowing a mouthful of sea-water may well recall the instinctive gagging the ingestion of such a high concentration of saline induces.
A tea-spoon of salt diffused in a dish and sharing space with other nutrients, on the other hand, can transform an otherwise bland dish into a culinary delight – a reflection of how important salt is to our diet. Getting the exact proportion right is down to the individual cook. “Season to taste” is a common instruction on most recipes because no one really thinks that a good cook would contrive to add too much or too little salt unless they had a particular dislike of the person or persons they were preparing the food for.
Common table salt is a mixture of the two minerals sodium and chloride. Both of these minerals form an essential and vital part of our daily nutritional requriements. Sodium balances water regulation, muscle contraction, nerve stiumation and a correct acid-alkaline balance. Chloride on the other hand helps the digestion of proteins in that it is responsible for the production of hydrochloric acid (which lines the stomach walls). Interestingly, chloride also stimulates the enzyme amylase which helps breaks down carbohydrates.
All global diets have added some salt to their dishes refelecting the essential role it plays in our everyday nutritional requirements. There are two traditional societies from which concentrated forms of salts were absent – the Inuit of Greenland and the Masai in Kenya. These two populations, traditionally and regularly, consumed large quantities of fresh blood from their slaughtered live-stock in order to ensure a good balance of the required sodium and chloride for optimal health. Caribou in the case of the Inuit and Ox blood in the case of the Masai. One would have to drink a lot of caribou or ox blood to ingest the right amount of salt in this way – not something exactly feasible to most everyday cooks and, let’s face it, probably not too appealing to those not used to this form of a diet.
Just as too little salt leads to adverse reactions, so too an over-consumption of sodium-chloride can lead to deleterious side effects, most notably hypertension, which is why it is so vital to get the balance right. The real challenge for modern populations is not so much salt per se but the over-use of salt in fake food products and the subsequent consumption thereof.
According to the American Heart Foundation 90% of the American population’s salt consumption derives from convenience food not from the salt they add to food prepared at home. A classic example of how convenience food is the root cause of modern malnutrition and not the ingredient which has been relied upon for generations by global populations. For those who truly want to control their salt intake there is nothing for it but to prepare the dishes at home using quality, not fake, processed salts.
Traditionally salt was mined underground or harvested from the sea by building basins along the shore-line and waiting for the water to evaporate. Fallon and Enig suggest use of traditionally harvested Celtic sea salts for our dishes, “Sun dried sea salt contains traces of marine life that provide organic forms of iodine. This natural salt contains only about 82% sodium chloride; it contains about 14 % macro-minerals, particularly magnesium and nearly 80 trace minerals.” Those mined from deep under ground may contain trace minerals but lack organic iodine, “from the minute bits of plant life that are preserved in moist Celtic sea salt.”
Traditional Celtic sea-salt has not been processed, heated or fiddled with in any way. As a result it is naturally grey in colour as well as retaining some moisture. Compare this to pure white, bone-dry table-salts deriving from mined salt. The salt, thus mined is heated to high temperatures thereby destroying minerals such as magnesium. If traditionally harvested Celtic sea-salt contains roughly 82% sodium chloride then mass-produced table salt contains 98% sodium chloride. It would be tempting to suggest that the remaining 2% is made up of trace minerals but the sad reality is that the remaining 2% of mass produced, processed salt is made up of caking agents that include such delights as ferro cyanide and alumino silicate to try and prevent the salt from retaining its moisture.
The presence of sodium and chloride in foods.
Both sodium and chloride can be found in foods such as celery, beets and bananas – though in much smaller concentrations which is why the sodium content of these foods is barely perceptible when consumed in their natural state. One of the best sources of natural sodium and chloride derives from meat and fish bone broths.