Salt is a chemical
term for a substance produced by the reaction of an acid with a base. More
specifically, salt is an ionic compound composed of positively charged cations
and negatively charged anions, so that the product is neutral.
In our gastro-lives, we are only concerned and interested in the one salt we
know and love – sodium chloride or NaCl. Sodium is an unstable base metal that
can suddenly burst into flame. Chlorine is a deadly poisonous acid gas. But when
the two elements react, voilà – salt!
would not be exaggerating to compare the salt trade’s importance
during the 15th and 16th centuries with the political role of
the oil trade in our own century. Until modern times, salt
provided the principal way to preserve food. Naturally grazed
animals were always slaughtered in the fall when they were at
their optimum plumpness and salt provided the only feasible way
of preserving the meat.
Salt was to the ancient Hebrews, and still is to modern Jews,
the symbol of the eternal nature of God’s covenant to Israel. On
Friday night Jews dip the Sabbath bread in salt. In Judaism,
bread is a symbol of food, which is a gift from God, and dipping
the bread in salt preserves it – keeps the agreement between God
and his people. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans included
salt in sacrifices and offerings, and they invoked gods with
salt and water, which is thought to be the origin of Christian
holy water. In traditional Japanese theatre, salt was sprinkled
on the stage before each performance to protect the actors from
evil spirits. In Haiti, the only way to break the spell and
bring a zombie back to life is with salt. And the list goes on –
virtually every culture and religion in the world has a special
significance for salt.
Almost no place on earth is without salt. But this was not clear
until revealed by modern geology, and so for all of history
until the 20th century, salt was desperately searched for,
traded for, and fought over. It was often used as money. The
search for salt has challenged engineers for millennia and
created some of the most bizarre, along with some of the most
ingenious, machines. A number of the greatest public works ever
conceived were motivated by the need to move salt. Trade routes
that have remained major thoroughfares were established,
alliances built, empires secured, and revolutions provoked – all
for something that fills the ocean, bubbles up from springs,
forms crusts in lake beds, and thickly veins a large part of the
earth’s rock fairly close to the surface.
Whether from mines or sea, all the world’s salt came originally
from sea water or ancient salt lakes. The most obvious source of
salt are the oceans, which contain 2-3% salt. In the
Mediterranean, the salt content of the eastern waters can rise
to over 4%. Sea salt is gathered in open pools or ponds, after
the water has entered and evaporated. Some areas, as in Greece,
have rocky coasts where the waves fill natural hollows, leaving
treasure-troves of salt for local use. But on an industrial
scale, water is channelled into walled “Salinas”. In coastal countries of northern Europe
where there insufficient solar heat to extract salt, sea salt must be
obtained by replacing the sun’s heat from above with a fire’s
heat from below – that is, by simmering the water. The most
common sources for sea salt from water include the Mediterranean Sea, the
North Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean (particularly in France, on
the coast of Brittany).
Photo taken in the Chapel of Saint Kinga, Wieliczka Salt Mine. Everything
you see - floors, walls, ceilings, chandeliers, sculptures - were carved from
solid rock salt.
The majority of salt in the world is extracted from
mines or rock salt. The Wieliczka salt mine is the most
impressive mine in Europe. This deposit of rock salt has
been mined since the 13th century and is composed of 7.5
million square meters of post-excavation space on 9
levels, 2148 chambers, and 320 km of passages. Of
course, we only travelled a small parcel of salt-land
and ended up on level 3, at a depth of 135 metres.
most impressive aspect of the Wieliczka mine is
the result of what the miners did in their spare time –
carved religious figures, chapels, even elaborate
chandeliers from salt crystal. In the pictures shown,
everything you see – walls, floors, ceilings,
chandeliers, statues – is carved out of salt!
Ontario is no stranger to salt mines. In 1866, the
Goderich Petroleum Company was founded in Goderich,
Ontario for the purposes of digging for oil. Samuel
Platt began digging on the north bank of the Maitland
River. After 686 feet of gray limestone, there was no
sign of oil, so the stockholders who had provided
$10,000 in start-up money wanted to abandon the project.
the county council offered Platt a bonus of $1,000, and the city offered $500
provided he continue to a depth of 1,000 feet. At 964 feet, he hit solid rock
salt. The Goderich Salt Company was founded with fifty-two boiling kettles, and
the Ontario salt fields have become one of the most productive saltworks in the
modern world (the company is now called Sifto… sound familiar?? –
click here for more info.
has a bad rap these days – mainly because people choose to eat
more salt than they need, and they eat the wrong kind of salt.
The fact is sodium chloride is essential to life on Earth.
Sodium functions as an electrolyte, as do potassium, calcium,
and magnesium, all of which regulate the electrical charges
within our cells. Chloride supports potassium absorption and
helps oversee the body’s acid and base balance, enhances carbon
dioxide transportation, and is an essential component of
digestive acids. An average adult human contains about 250g of
salt, which would fill three or four salt shakers, but is
constantly losing it through bodily functions. Health Canada’s
recommendation for sodium chloride intake (“Adequate Intake”) is
3.8g per day “to ensure that the overall diet provides an
adequate intake of other important nutrients and to cover sodium
sweat losses in unacclimatized individuals who are exposed to
high temperatures or who become physically active as
here for a detailed report).
Keep in mind the
recommended salt intake includes salt consumed through all foods. Most food we
eat (outside of vegetables) contains salt – even meat contains small amounts of
salt. The Masai, nomadic cattle herders in East Africa (see picture), meet their
salt needs by bleeding livestock and drinking the blood. Unfortunately,
most processed foods contain far more salt than you need. Moreover, like
virtually all other food related problems, the issue with salt can be pegged to
the advent of industrialization.
Tara and Mario with the Masai tribe in Tanzania, Africa.
The Masai's sodium intake comes solely from drinking
the blood of their cows.
Typical table salt you buy in the grocery store has been heated
up to 1500F and refined to remove most of the natural elements.
If the chemical “cleaning” of the salt isn’t bad enough already,
other chemicals get added – such as anticaking agents to improve
the storage and handling characteristics, including tricalcium
phosphate, calcium or magnesium carbonates, magnesium oxide,
silicon dioxide, sodium alumino-silicate, and alumino-calcium
silicate (the latter two aluminum-based compounds have been
subject to a lot of criticism lately).
Natural sea or rock salt usually contains
the following elements:
Other trace minerals
Natural salt crystals contain not only sodium chloride,
but many other natural elements; the same elements of
which our bodies are composed and found existing in the
“primal ocean” from where all life originated. Sodium
chloride requires its natural counterparts, such as
potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and other minerals
and trace elements to equalize absorption into the body.
In essence, not only is typical table salt an “empty”
food, but minerals and vitamins in your body must be
used to aid absorption – so the “pure” sodium chloride
becomes a negative nutrient.
natural sea salt is so much healthier for you than industrially
produced table salt, why is most of the salt available the
industrial variety? Two reasons: First, it is cheaper to produce
typical grocery store table salt on mass scales than to harvest
natural sea salt. Second, and more important, less than 7% of
all salt produced goes into the food market – the majority is
used in huge industries that require “clean” salt (pulp and
paper, textiles, soap, glass, cosmetics, etc.). Yes, that’s
right – table salt is essentially the exact same salt that is
produced for industries (packaged in smaller quantities, of
course). The problems with salt are the same problems with meat
– and the reason why we opened an organic butcher shop.
way we like to categorize salt is to think of it as either
refined or unrefined. As we said above, all salt originated from
the sea – so “sea salt” isn’t just salt directly extracted from
the water, but also from mines. The main difference is the
Table Salt – Created from rock salt extracted from mines,
which is heated to up to 1500F to remove other minerals
naturally found in salt, and is chemically processed to achieve
specific storage and handling requirements. Most table salt is
Iodized Salt – Is table salt with added iodine (usually
in the form of potassium iodide). The process of adding iodine
started in 1924 when the Morton Salt Company began adding iodine
to help prevent
goiters, which at the time was typically caused by iodine
deficiency. Approximately 70% of table salt consumed is
iodized. Iodine deficiency has been virtually eliminated in
North America, but it still presents a health problem in many
countries around the world. Also note that with the increased
popularity of natural sea salt, there are concerns that we may
not be ingesting sufficient iodine. Natural sources of iodine
include sea kelp, onions, seafood, meat from animals that graze
in coastal areas, and fruits and vegetables grown in iodine-rich
soil. Most multi-vitamin supplements include iodine.
Kosher Salt – is generally a derivative of regular table
salt, but is coarse-grained and usually contains less additives
(especially magnesium carbonate which clouds brine solutions).
It is so named for its use in the preparation of meat according
to the requirements of Jewish dietary guidelines. The Torah
prohibits consumption of any blood, which is why kosher meat
must be slaughtered and prepared in a specific manner. A common
way of removing the final traces of blood from meat is to soak
and salt it, and kosher salt – due to the larger size and shape
of its granules – is more effective at absorbing moisture from
Also due to the larger shape of the granules, there is simply
less salt in a pinch of kosher salt than in a pinch of table
salt making it more appropriate for adding to the rim of your
margarita glass or to recipes that call for a salt crust. You’ll
require roughly double the amount of kosher salt than the finer
grained table or iodized salt to achieve the same saltiness.
differences in flavour of natural salts are mainly based on the
unique mineral content depending on the source. Himalayan Salt
is pink in colour which is indicative of its high iron content.
Celtic Sea Salt, also known as Gray Salt or Sel Gris, is gray
because of the colour of the clay found in the salt flats. The
next time you’re in The Healthy Butcher, pickup a few bottles of
salt on our shelves and you’ll notice the huge differences in
appearance. Texture is also a key component in how we taste the
salt – large grains, small crystals, wafer flakes, etc. – each
create a different sensation in your mouth. Some sea and rock
salts actually taste saltier than the same amount of table salt,
so for those of you cutting down on salt intake, you can get
more flavour with less sodium.
Sea Salt – includes salt extracted by evaporation in
Salinas and lake salt, as well as rock salt from mines. The
generic sea salt you find in the supermarket may not be additive
free, so check the label carefully to find out where it is from
and what it contains. The best known of all-natural sea salt,
and often considered the best quality, comes from the coast of
Brittany in France where salt farmers have been harvesting salt
for centuries. The salt from this area occurs naturally as
large-grained crystals that are light gray in colour and are
known as Sel Gris (French for Gray Salt) or Celtic Sea Salt.
Other famous sea salts come from Hawaii, Maldon in England, and
from the west coast of Sicily.
Fleur de Sel – perhaps the only type of salt that is more
highly regarded than Celtic Sea Salt. Fleur de Sel (meaning
“flowers of salt”, the crystals look like lacy snowflakes) is
hand harvested from the surface of the salt evaporation ponds
where it forms when winds are calm and the weather is warm and
sunny. True Fleur de Sel comes from the Guérande region of
France where, like fine wine regions, different areas within
Guérande produce salts with their own unique flavors and aroma
profiles. The Algarve region of Portugal is becoming known for
its variant called “Flor de Sal”. You’ll notice in our list of
salts below that the only Fleur de Sel variant we carry is from
the Algarve – at 5.4¢/gram, it is less expensive than most
French varieties and the quality is comparable, if not better.
Fleur de Sel taste is delicate, does not sear the tip of your
tongue, and is ideal for salads, cooked fresh vegetables and for
finishing grilled meats.
Organic Salt – realistically, all unrefined sea salt is
organic. That being said, there are a few organizations around
the world certifying salt as “Certified Organic” by regulating
the purity of the water used, cleanliness of the salt beds, and
procedures for harvesting and packaging the salt.
THE HEALTHY BUTCHER'S SELECTION OF SEA SALTS
selection of sea salts, although not extensive, is
representative of several types from around the world. As with
wine, the quality of a sea salt must be considered alongside
it’s price, so we’ve listed the salts in order from least
expensive to most expensive on a cost per gram basis (shown in
brackets). All of these salts are excellent and have their own
If you’re looking for a unique gift for your foodie friend, wrap
up the latter four salts on the list – it’s a sampling of four
wonderful and completely different salts – and all are
beautifully packaged. Just say that you want the “Live to Eat
Discount” and you’ll get all four salts for $42.98 (a 10%
Ta-Ze Sundried Sea Salt – Turkey – 500ml, approx.
520g for $6.49 (1.2¢/gram). This bottle of Aegean Sea Salt
is one of those rare finds on the culinary shelves that make
you scratch you head and say “hmm… why is this so cheap?” It
is a perfect salt for finishing your meats, raw vegetables
or salads. And it’s course size make it great for a hand
BEST OVERALL VALUE.
Maldon Sea Salt – Maldon, England – 240g for $8.69
(3.6¢/gram). This company still employs the ancient craft of
hand-harvesting the salt crystals using traditional long
handled rakes – a process known as “drawing the pans”. This
salt has a clean, fresh taste and is distinctively salty
taste means less is required – an advantage for those who
wish to reduce their salt intake.
CHEF’S FAVOURITE AROUND THE WORLD.
L’Himalayen Pink Salt – Himalayan Mountains, Pakistan
– 250g for $10.99 (4.4¢/gram) – The Himalayas are referred
to as “the original source of salt”. They are the result of
the collision of the Indo-Australian and Eurasian plates,
causing the disappearance of the former Thetys ocean over
200 million years ago. Naturally rich through water
filtering by mineral-rich magma over millions of years. Its
pink-speckled crystals are evidence of the iron trapped
OUR PERSONAL FAVOURITE.
Belamandil Flor de Sal – Algarve, Portugal – 125g for
$6.79 (5.4¢/gram). 100% unprocessed sea flower from the
Atlantic Ocean. Measured to have a good mix of magnesium,
calcium, potassium, iron, and iodine.
BEST VALUE FLEUR DE SEL WE HAVE EVER COME ACROSS.
Celtic Sea Salt – Brittany, France – 226g for $14.99
(6.6¢/gram). A product of natural crystallization on the
ocean waters near Brittany, France. It retains the ocean’s
true essence, containing naturally occurring minerals.
Jurassic Sea Salt – Utah, U.S. – 226g for $14.99
(6.6¢/gram). Harvested from the Utah valleys. Called
“Jurassic” because the salt trapped in the Utah valleys is a
result of sea levels rising during the Jurassic Period (150
million years ago). Not refined, so contains trace minerals.
Its pink-speckled crystals are evidence of the iron trapped
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