Flavor: Salty… one of the five main taste groups (along with sweet, sour, bitter, and umami)
Use with: Savory dishes, sweet dishes to enhance flavor, bitter dishes to reduce bitter flavor, watery vegetables before cooking, and raw meat before cooking
Salt is a necessity of life. In order for our bodies to function properly, we need a proper intake of salt. From a biological standpoint, this is most likely why our bodies crave this mineral (that’s right! It’s not really a spice) so much.
Evidence of salt gathering has been found dating as far back as the Neolithic time period. In 1 AD, records show that more money was collected in India and China through salt taxes than from gold mines. Salt has since worked its way into our everyday lives through common phrases (“Take it with a grain of salt”), religion (Matthew referring to his disciples as the “salt of the earth” in Mark 5:13), pop culture (“salty”), and even our etymology (Roman soldiers used to be paid partly with a salt ration called “salarium” in Latin. This later evolved into our current English word for payment, “salary.”)
Salt is processed in three ways:
- Salt water is deposited into evaporation ponds which evaporate the water and leave the salt behind
- Rock salt (halite) is mined from underground caves like in the Himalayas or Wielicza, Poland
- Clean water is dumped into rock salt deposits which dissolves the salt. The water is the filtered and evaporated using a boiling method, and the salt is left behind.
Table salt is just fine rock salt that uses additives to keep it from clumping.
FLAVOR AND USAGE
- Salt should be added towards the end of cooking especially in the case of sauces and soups. This is because as the recipe cooks, the liquid reduces and the salt flavor becomes more prominent.
- Despite some published methods, according to Ian Hemphill, the author of The Spice and Herb Bible, there is no proven way reduce saltiness. The only viable option is adding more ingredients.
- Salt is corrosive, so its best to not use a metal grinder or it will oxidize. The best option is ceramic, but wood and plastic will also work.
- Slat is obviously important in savory dishes, but also important in foods with a sweet flavor profile because it pulls out the natural sweetness of the food. Baked goods without salt will taste flat.
- Salt naturally pulls out the water of some vegetables, so add it to watery vegetables prior to cooking (this works on foods like eggplant, tomatoes, and zucchini.)
- Salted water takes longer to boil, so in the case of cooking pasta, potatoes, etc., don’t add any until after the water has already boiled.
- Unseasoned salt has an infinite shelf life, but seasoned salts should be used within a year
- Wait until food is at normalized temperature. Food that is too hot will numb your taste buds and food that is too cold will suppress the flavor of the salt.
- Because seafood comes from the ocean, it is already generally high in salt. Adding salt to shellfish will generally only make it tougher.
- Use coarse or kosher salts with meat. They enhance the flavor of the meat by accelerating the caramelization of the natural sugars in the cut.