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ChrisTaylor

Sodium quackery

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This guy I know, he likes expensive things. He went out and purchased 500 grams of salt for ~$40 (AUD, but that's basically $40). I like nice things. Some of these nice things are expensive. But $40 for salt is, well, a fair bit. This wasn't truffle salt or anything of that nature. This was Welsh sea salt.

The price tag isn't so much the issue. In fact, it's bordering on an irrelevancy. Maldon salt in Australia isn't as expensive as the salt my friend bought, but it's still significantly the supermarket's standard 'sea salt' offerings.

Salt is an interesting topic. You can spend a lot of money on salt and buy a lot of different kinds of salt, even before you get into the realm of smoked salts, flavoured salts, salts with bits of truffle in them, salts mixed with ash, et al. Looking over old threads here, there are people who collect salts. For each kind they have a specific purpose in mind.

But what's, really, the difference? I get that when I go to the supermarket and pick up salt, it might come as fine grains or large rocks or fine flakes (like Maldon). It may be hit with anti-caking agents or other additives. But aside from that--and large grain/flake sea salt tends not to have those additives--what, really, is the difference? Is there a difference, aside from subtle textural differences (and the way it's easier, I guess, to evenly season something w/ less salt using a coarse salt than it is table salt) I might get from seasoning my rib eye with Maldon as opposed to my friend's Welsh salt?

Has anyone--say, one of you with a large-ish collection of sea salts--done a blind tasting (and again, I'm not talking about black salt or smoked salt or lemon salt or anything like that--just 'plain' but costly sea salt). How can one sea salt have noticeably more of a 'subtle sweetness' than another? Is Maldon, on a chemical level, truly different to the Welsh stuff or salt from Hawaii or salt from Nigeria or salt from, God forbid, a big 1 kilo bag I purchased for $3 at the supermarket (as opposed to ~$8 for a little box of Maldon)?


Edited by ChrisTaylor (log)

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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In repeated blind taste tests, when dissolved into water, all sea salts and kosher salt are indistinguishable.


PS: I am a guy.

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At least for me, the whole point of Maldon or Cyprus flake salts is the texture. To use them in dissolved form, e.g. to salt pasta water, is incredibly expensive to gain, for me at least, no noticeable benefit.

I would also guess that the tests excluded the salts with a heavy clay content, like some of the Hawaiian ones, since the tint of the water would be a tell-tale indicator. Tasted straight, I think some of them have an unpleasantly muddy taste.

I certainly can't taste the difference in most, if not all applications, but there is a health argument for using the gray or pink salts. Dr. Michael Eades says that they have only about 70% of the sodium of table or kosher salt, with the rest being minerals and micronutrients that may or may not have health benefits, depending on whether other parts of your diet provide them.

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There's one salt that is definitely different...black salt (kala namak). In a blind taste test, you would not even need to taste, your nose alone would tell you all you needed to know! Love the stuff...

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For pasta water, plain old cheap salt works fine. For seasoning food I really like Kalas sea salt. Whether it's better than other sea salts I don't know, but it definitely has a brighter more rounded flavor than standard supermarket salt. We really notice it if I don't use it. Kalas isn't particularly expensive, though.

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In repeated blind taste tests, when dissolved into water, all sea salts and kosher salt are indistinguishable.

I've heard this time and again but have never been able to find the studies apart from some run by a group of amateurs who don't seem to know anything about scientific method. I know from my studies of gustation literature that humans are able to distinguish extremely small amounts of certain tastes so it is not beyond the pale that we can detect trace elements in salts. Time to stump up the claimed literature around this statement for scrutiny I'm afraid.


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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Google has lots on this:

http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/Articles/Exotic-Herbs-Spices-and-Salts-639/culinary-salt-guide.aspx

http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/3707/can-people-tell-the-difference-between-sea-salt-and-table-salt-in-food

etc. you are paying for 1) packaging 2) texture. And pretty much everyone knows all salt comes from the sea. Even the salt in the caves of Salzburg, which you can visit.

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Full disclosure: I sell Necton sea salt from Portugal.

There are a couple of reasons to use good sea salt instead of refined salts such as kosher salt. One is flavor. Nearly all of the salt produced world-wide, no matter the process, is destined for industrial use (paint, PVC, etc). Industrial users want it to be as close to 100% sodium chloride as possible. Larger salt producers, including industrial sea salt producers, try to meet this goal.

Small producers of culinary salts don’t mind less than pure sodium chloride, and in fact embrace the trace elements in their salts. The salt I sell and use at home is 96-97% sodium chloride; that 3-4% consists of the other micronutrients in seawater, including magnesium and potassium. These trace elements buffer the bitter flavor of sodium chloride.

While it is subtle, you can taste the difference. I tell my customers to poach or fry a couple of eggs, then eat one with ordinary table or kosher salt, the other with Necton or a comparable sea salt. One of my restaurant customers uses Necton salt in the kitchen because, as the chef/owner told me, “When we ran out once and switched back to kosher, the cooks complained that the food tasted like crap.”

Flor de sal (flower of salt, fleur de sel in French) also has a textural advantage. The small, delicate crystals are the first to precipitate out of solution in the solar salt ponds, and no other salt has the same light crunch.

The other reason is political. Diamond Crystal is part of Cargill, one of the bigger cogs in the industrial food system.

Jim


Edited by Jim Dixon (log)

olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

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There's one salt that is definitely different...black salt (kala namak). In a blind taste test, you would not even need to taste, your nose alone would tell you all you needed to know! Love the stuff...

Yes indeed. Without opening the jar, from across the room. Cant agree on the love part, but then I didnt grow up with it. :smile: Its considerably not pure NaCl, of course.


"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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There's one salt that is definitely different...black salt (kala namak). In a blind taste test, you would not even need to taste, your nose alone would tell you all you needed to know! Love the stuff...

Yes indeed. Without opening the jar, from across the room. Cant agree on the love part, but then I didnt grow up with it. :smile: Its considerably not pure NaCl, of course.

It can definitely be, shall we say...unexpected, for the uninitiated. But honestly, it makes the taste in so many things. And the taste of just a little in sugarcane or fresh fruit juice, or sprinkled atop plain dahi, or used in combination with chilli and black pepper in a simple raita...so good.

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Wow

Ive never been able to try black salt.

I trust you on this.

but its not the salt its the black-ness.

Ill look for it

thanks!

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In the jar its a lovely pale purple.

Used properly, I expect its like fish sauce in Thai food - key to the just-right flavor, but not obviously indicating its delicious utility without a recipe or guide.

Left improperly sealed, you can wonder what is rotting in your house, thanks to the sulfer. Its cheap enough when you find it in the store to splurge and try it (couple dollars for several ounces very finely ground).


"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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My new favorite salt is from a company called "Salt man". It is sea salt harvested in Bonaire in the Caribbean. It tastes just for all the world like... Salt. But I got it there and visited the solar salt flats (almost the whole south end of the island.) and saw the pink flamingos. So when I use that salt I'm reminded of that trip. But like I said, it tastes like salt.

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Chris, in your part of the world look out for Murray River salt - delicate pink flakes. It's now our standard 'best' salt at home.

I've done a highly unscientific, non-blind comparison with the standard iodised supermarket stuff. It's hard to describe the taste of salt other than 'salty', but the supermarket stuff seems to have a harshness the Murray River doesn't. I still use the ordinary for 'bulk' applications like pasta, etc., but the Murray is prettier on the table and in the small bowl beside my cooktop.


Leslie Craven, aka "lesliec"
Host, eG Forumslcraven@egstaff.org

After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relatives ~ Oscar Wilde

My eG Foodblog

eGullet Ethics Code signatory

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a lot of the 'harshness' in supermarket salt is in fact the iodine. try it plain. if you live within a certain distance of a sea coast you do not need that iodine. You simply breath it in.

in Chicago, you will need it. just less than you think.

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Google has lots on this:

http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/Articles/Exotic-Herbs-Spices-and-Salts-639/culinary-salt-guide.aspx

http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/3707/can-people-tell-the-difference-between-sea-salt-and-table-salt-in-food

etc. you are paying for 1) packaging 2) texture. And pretty much everyone knows all salt comes from the sea. Even the salt in the caves of Salzburg, which you can visit.

The first talks about 'non-scientific' studies; the second contains research conducted by the eminent research institution "Cook's Illustrated."

Anyone have anything more scientific?


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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Google has lots on this:

http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/Articles/Exotic-Herbs-Spices-and-Salts-639/culinary-salt-guide.aspx

http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/3707/can-people-tell-the-difference-between-sea-salt-and-table-salt-in-food

etc. you are paying for 1) packaging 2) texture. And pretty much everyone knows all salt comes from the sea. Even the salt in the caves of Salzburg, which you can visit.

The first talks about 'non-scientific' studies; the second contains research conducted by the eminent research institution "Cook's Illustrated."

Anyone have anything more scientific?

This is what I'm looking for too. And I say this as someone coming at this with some very obvious cynicism. I have no issue with being told I'm wrong, but I'm really, really, really doubtful when I hear stories like oh, we stopped seasoning our food with salt x and all of a sudden our food started to taste like shit. If sea salt does have trace amounts of interesting flavours in it--say, some small percentage of, well, stuff that's not actually salt--I'd be surprised if those elements shone through when the salt was sprinkled over a strongly flavoured dish. Or, at least, shone through so strongly that they influenced whether or not the dish tasted 'good'.


Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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Google has lots on this:

http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/Articles/Exotic-Herbs-Spices-and-Salts-639/culinary-salt-guide.aspx

http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/3707/can-people-tell-the-difference-between-sea-salt-and-table-salt-in-food

etc. you are paying for 1) packaging 2) texture. And pretty much everyone knows all salt comes from the sea. Even the salt in the caves of Salzburg, which you can visit.

The first talks about 'non-scientific' studies; the second contains research conducted by the eminent research institution "Cook's Illustrated."

Anyone have anything more scientific?

There's an article by Harold McGee summarizing a scientific experiment which claims there are detectable, albeit minor differences.


PS: I am a guy.

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My personal studies reveal big differences in the effect of granule size when the salt is placed on food immediately prior to serving. Big granule = big salty bursts. Nice on a steak.

But other than that (and assuming that the salt isn't smoked or truffled or something) salt is salt.

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Big granule = big salty bursts. Nice on a steak.

Not just steak. Two of my favorites for fleur de sel or grey salt is fish and poached eggs. Put them on at the last minute, and you get these crunchy explosions of salt here and there that is just lovely. Has to be used sparingly, of course; you don't want it in every bite. Would never use that salt in an application where it dissolved though.

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There's an article by Harold McGee summarizing a scientific experiment which claims there are detectable, albeit minor differences.

McGee has a nice dig or two at Bittman in that article. I like that.

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There's an article by Harold McGee summarizing a scientific experiment which claims there are detectable, albeit minor differences.

McGee has a nice dig or two at Bittman in that article. I like that.

You mean Bitterman. He's the worse thing that ever happened to Mark Bittman.

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