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Cooking without salt


GordonD
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My wife's doctor has instructed her to abstain from salt for the remainder of her pregnancy. As I am of the persuasion that considers unsalted meat an abomination, this has caused no small amount of tension in the household.

I'm looking for saltless cooking techniques and recipes (my wife insists I call them "salternatives" -- as she is pregnant, I find it advisable to humor her as much as I can) that don't leave food bland and only vaguely edible.

Any suggestions?

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Yes, vinegar/citrus is good.

Kelp or kombu are good but need something to counteract the mellowing tendency.

Also sprinkles such as toasted sesame seeds, toasted and finely chopped nuts etc are good. Try making a dukkah mix without the salt.

Summer savory is a much maligned and under-used herb that is particularly good with salt-free food. The trick is to either grow it or get a GOOD source of dried herb. I was pleased with some I got from Penzey's.

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When I had to cut way back on salt I too discovered that anything with a lot of citrus or anything very tart can go the distance without adding salt. I made a lot of Avgolemono (Greek Lemon soup) and Sorrel soup. I also found that roasting a chicken rubbed with lemon juice and oil and paprika was very satisfying without salt. I agree that unsalted beef is a tough sell.

Upthread there was a suggestion of kelp and kombu. I always stayed away from any type of seaweed, assuming that it naturally contained seasalt. Actually I have no idea whether that's true.

I sympathize! I was amazed when I realized how much sodium is in all products on the grocery shelves. Most plain old cottage cheese has a ton of sodium, and brands vary widely.Tell your wife to take heart; soon her taste buds will adjust and she won't miss it as much as she does now. And it won't be long before there are cherries and plums and other fabulous fruits! And then you'll have a baby!

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I have never seen or tasted it, but I came across something called NuSalt -- sodium-free salt substitute. I imagine it is the Splenda of salts.

From the FAQ:

# 4. What are the ingredients in Nu-Salt?

Nu-Salt contains potassium chloride, potassium bitartrate, silicon dioxide and natural flavor derived from citrus fruits and honey.

# 5. What is the function of each ingredient?

Potassium chloride = is the salt substitute component of the blend.

Potassium bitartrate = flavor modifier.

Silicon dioxide = anticaking agent.

Natural flavor = taste modifier.

Another surprising source of sodium: canned beans. It's a shame that the preservative qualities do have a drawback.

Edited by Reignking (log)
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I have never seen or tasted it, but I came across something called NuSalt -- sodium-free salt substitute.  I imagine it is the Splenda of salts.

From the FAQ:

# 4. What are the ingredients in Nu-Salt?

Nu-Salt contains potassium chloride, potassium bitartrate, silicon dioxide and natural flavor derived from citrus fruits and honey.

# 5. What is the function of each ingredient?

Potassium chloride = is the salt substitute component of the blend.

Potassium bitartrate = flavor modifier.

Silicon dioxide = anticaking agent.

Natural flavor = taste modifier.

Another surprising source of sodium: canned beans.  It's a shame that the preservative qualities do have a drawback.

I had a roommate in college who had to watch her sodium and used NuSalt religiously. To me it tasted like sprinkling your food with aluminum foil. It's definitely salt-esque, but not salty.

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Frederico Fellini

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Dude, I got three letters for you: MSG.

Actually, if the OP's wife is facing a salt restriction (and I'm guessing it's due to pregnancy-related high blood pressure), the sodium content of monosodium glutamate might also be a problem; while it contains only a third of the sodium of NaCl table salt, that might still be too much for her particular codition. A number of salt substitutes might present problems as well; even if they don't contain sodium, the compounds they substitute, such as potassium, might still mess with her electrolyte balance in undesireable ways. Obviously I am not a doctor or any other sort of medical professional--just a layperson with my own history of hypertension and other health issues that make me sensitive to sodium intake. So OP's wife would be well-advised to run all these questions by her health professionals just to double-check.

Even if MSG is not okay for her particular health situation, she could still enjoy the flavor-boosts from foods that are rich in naturally-occurring glutamate, the amino acid of which monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt. Now some of these foods, such as soy sauce and parmesan cheese, are also quite salty and so would be right out. But such foods as tomatoes and mushrooms are also high in natural glutamates, but without the sodium hit. Here's a list of naturally-occurring glutamate levels for some common foods.

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Upthread there was a suggestion of kelp and kombu. I always stayed away from any type of seaweed, assuming that it naturally contained seasalt. Actually I have no idea whether that's true.

Actually, kelp or kombu is an excellent source of glutamate which gives everything umami flavor. In fact, I think kombu soup is where glutamate was isolated and made into MSG.

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Upthread there was a suggestion of kelp and kombu. I always stayed away from any type of seaweed, assuming that it naturally contained seasalt. Actually I have no idea whether that's true.

Actually, kelp or kombu is an excellent source of glutamate which gives everything umami flavor. In fact, I think kombu soup is where glutamate was isolated and made into MSG.

That is in fact true about kombu being the food from which glutamate was originally isolated. Alas, it is also true, totally aside from its glutamate content, that kombu has a high sodium content. According to this macrobiotics text, kombu cotains a whopping 2500 mg per 100g (by comparison, 100g of cooked broccoli contains 41 mg of sodium, according to this page--enter 100g for serving size).

Please don't think from these comments that I'm anti-MSG, or even anti-kombu--far from it! But I think it's important to be aware of all the data, especially when dealing with a medical condition.

Edited to add: I can't seem to make the link for the broccoli sodium content work properly, so I suggest going directly to the Calorie King website and looking up broccoli. Alas, their coverage of sea vegetables is kind of spotty, which is why I Googled the macrobiotics text.

Edited by mizducky (log)
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Thanks mizducky for the clarification of sodium content in kombu.

Gordon, you've been quiet since you started this thread. It would be useful to know if your wife's doc suggested she back way off on salt and sodium-laden products or whether she has been instructed to avoid all sodium.

My solution in lowering my salt intake was to pretty much eliminate processed commercial foods. Then I allowed myself to add a small amount of salt to home-cooked foods. I treat salt like it was precious gold flake. A very small pinch of good sea salt goes a long way on a tomato or on a rib-eye, especially once your taste buds adjust to a diet with less. Your wife could probably eat one sliced tomato a day with a few grains of fleur de sel for the rest of her pregnancy and not get half the sodium that's in one 6 oz can of tomato juice! Using less processed foods means you could use salt mainly for finishing, and that way you could salt your own portion and wouldn't feel so deprived.

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It's the OP, not the wife, who is having taste issues here.

I went on a low-salt diet (which to me means no salt in cooking) 5 years ago. Used various herbs appropriate to whatever fish or poultry I was roasting or broiling. In sauteeing & pan-frying, caramelization seemed to add enough flavor so that I didn't really miss the salt. It was a bit of an adjustment but your taste changes after a month or two. At that point, when you dine out, a lot of dishes start to taste overly salted.

Edited by ghostrider (log)

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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I have never seen or tasted it, but I came across something called NuSalt -- sodium-free salt substitute.  I imagine it is the Splenda of salts.

I had a roommate in college who had to watch her sodium and used NuSalt religiously. To me it tasted like sprinkling your food with aluminum foil. It's definitely salt-esque, but not salty.

Yes, potassium chloride has an unpleasant metallic flavor. It works in a pinch when it's one ingredient among many, but will not shine as a central flavor. A decent compromise I've found is Morton Lite Salt, or any other such blend produced by a variety of manufacturers. (You could always blend your own if you have KCl/NuSalt on hand.)

David aka "DCP"

Amateur protein denaturer, Maillard reaction experimenter, & gourmand-at-large

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To the OP: I would suggest that you cook things without salt, and then salt your own portion, if it's only you that is missing the taste of salt. As far as omitting it from the cooking process, nothing bad will happen. I'm also one of the people who had to eliminate salt from my cooking, and I found the very same things that some people mention above - after a while your taste buds adapt, and the salt you add to what's on your plate at the end does the trick. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that you get a lot of cleaner, clearer flavors in cooked foods when you don't keep salting during cooking as so many people do - and I have seen people put something up to cook, taste it every half hour, decide it needs salt, and keep adding it every 30 minutes. As a test once, I made the same thing, tasted it, realized it needed salt, didn't add it, and just before serving, put a little bit of salt to taste. Tasted just as good, and probably eliminated several grams of sodium from the dish.

Another thing I'll do when putting up a pot of something to cook, is after it has cooked for a bit, I'll take some out, put it in a little pan and reduce it tremendously to preview what it will taste like when cooked down, and if all it needs at that point is a little salt, I've got it made.

If it's your wife who's craving salt, she may have to make do with squeezing lemon or using balsamic vinegar on her food and just make the best of it.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Ah,,, I misread the title.. I am heating up a bunch of salt in a 500 degree oven.. I am then going to pour the hot salt over the unshelled shrimp in a dish and see how it cooks the shrimp.. I saw this done on tv somewhere and have been wanting to try it since..

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