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Cooking Salts Explained
Salt, also known as Sodium Chloride or (NaCl) is a vital component of the healthy and balanced human diet. Over half of the human body contains fluids that contain salt. Our blood, tears and saliva all contain salt. In addition we daily lose salt in our perspiration and urine. Muscles need salt in order to function, nerves require salt to carry messages and the digestive system cannot function without salt. So as you can see salt is very important to us humans.
Table salt is your everyday white granular salt found in most kitchens. It is most commonly mined from salt mines and then refined to remove other minerals until it is pure or close to pure sodium chloride. Often you will find table salt referred to as 'iodized', this term refers to the fact that the manufacturer has added iodine. This practice began in the earlier part of the last century in co-operation with the government to minimise the incidence of thyroid problems such as Goiter; an enlargement of the thyroid gland caused by an iodine deficiency.
Taste: Slightly metallic, uninteresting and can easily become overpowering.
Rock salt is coarse and is usually mined from ancient salt deposits that are the result of very large bodies of water evaporating and leaving behind huge deposits of rock salt. Rock salt is much less refined than everyday table salt and contains more minerals and often more impurities. Rock salt is good for cooking with and ideal to use in salt grinders. I tend to use rock salt in blanching water as adding salt to water increases its boiling temperature and thus decreases the cooking time. I also use rock salt for presentation purposes such underneath oysters to keep them from falling over and visual appeal.
Taste: Rock salt can vary in taste depending on the region it is mined from and can possess interesting characteristics.
Sea salt comes in many forms; granules, large crystals and flakes. Sea salt is cultivated from filtered high salt content sea water using a process of evaporation. As the water evaporates salt crystals begin to form, the crystals are then allowed to settle, then removed, drained, dried and ready to use. Sea salt (as well as seafood for that matter) naturally contains iodine and supplementing, as often found in ordinary table salt is not required if sufficient amounts of either constitute part of your diet. I tend not to use salt at the table as I believe if the Chef has done his job there should be no need for the addition of salt. However should a guest request salt I will serve them only pure sea salt flakes. My personal preference for sea salt is that of the English east coast, a region that has been producing beautiful flaky white soft crystals for centuries.
Taste: When used in cooking it blends seamlessly with the food. When used at the table it imparts a slight saltiness without the brackishness or lip cringing effect of other salts. A few flakes on the tongue and its oceanic origins become very apparent. Is sea salt worth the extra cost? In my professional and personal opinion, definitely.
About the Author: Paul is a professional Chef and has worked and travelled all over the world. He now resides full time in Sydney Australia. Paul works as a personal Chef as well as a food writer, contributing regularly to http://www.chefspencil.com. His cooking style focuses on using the freshest ingredients possible and helping them work their magic, his motto 'combinations not complications'.