Salt – good or bad?
Too often salt is given a bad wrap. For instance, it is sometimes attributed as a root cause of high blood pressure. In actual fact sodium, like fat, is a nutrient that is needed by the body for optimal health. The problem lies in the quality of the salt consumed that will ultimately impact on one’s health! In fact salt pans, mineral muds, and crystallised sea salt have always been valued by both humans and animals in the wild for centuries.
So what is salt?
Did you know that unrefined sea salt is a healthy and symbiotic mix of over 100 minerals which are composed of 80 chemical elements? It’s typically 98.0% NaCl (sodium-chloride) and up to 2.0% other minerals (salts) including epsom salts and other magnesium salts, calcium salts, potassium (Kalium) salts, manganese salts, phosphorus salts, iodine salts, etc.
A quarter of a teaspoon (1.5 grams) per day is not only a sufficient quantity of these essential minerals, but also facilitates absorption of minerals from the foods you eat throughout the day. The composition of ocean salt crystals is so unique and complicated that no laboratory in the world can produce it from its basic 80 chemical elements. Yet sea salt minerals, existing in micro-doses, are in just the right proportion that you need for good health and longevity. Isn’t nature amazing!
As consumers, we must be mindful that not all salt is the same. It undergoes different levels of refining to purify it, removing dirt, grit and natural moisture, improving its storage and handling characteristics. Refining salt also gives it a consistent, pure-white appearance, partly because it strips out coloured trace minerals. During the refining process chemicals and additives such as iodine and anti-caking agents may be added. The latter prevents the grains clumping together due to the natural moisture found in salt and moisture absorbed from the environment.
Refined salt fails to meet any of your body’s requirements because it has become unrecognisable to your body as a nutrient rich mineral. It is likely to upset your digestion and create a toxic environment in your body. Salt should contain a vast range of trace minerals and when it does then it takes on the colour of the minerals. See your salt – any colour that’s not white is an indicator that the salt is probably NOT PROCESSED.
Sea salt is more commonly known and used by chefs and cooks than lake salt. It is derived from the natural process of evaporation of ocean/sea water, leaving behind certain trace minerals and elements. The minerals add flavor and color to sea salt, which also comes in a variety of coarseness levels.
Australia is girt by sea, so theoretically there should be no need for importing salts. In fact, Artisan House endorses and therefore features in its directory two brands of sea salt that maintain the highest standards of salt mining, processing (or lack thereof) and packaging:
Tasman – harvesting unique-tasting salt flakes with the incredible depth of flavour which can only come from the seas around Tasmania – some of the cleanest and nutrient rich waters in the world!
Olsson’s – a producer of solar sea salt since 1964, capturing the unique natural salt-profile of its locations in both the Eyre Peninsula and Rockhampton. Their salt pans come from some of the most pristine bodies of water left on earth. The result is a beautiful salt rich in minerals and goodness!
Lake salt comes from inland salt-water lakes (saline lakes). These are formed when water flowing into the lake from the sea cannot leave and when this water evaporates it becomes salty. There are not many salt-water lakes in the world, but some of them, like the Dead Sea, are even more salty than sea water.
Pink lake salts are normally mined rather than evaporated from salt water, so they are usually pure and stable. Natural pink salts are known for their essential trace minerals and their ability to regulate cellular fluid balance. It’s the iron oxide and the abundant essential trace minerals which cause their pink colour. Most of the trace minerals are in a colloidal form and inter-connected structure. This means that they are easy to absorb and provide a nutrient synergy that exponentially enhances their effect in the body.
Australia is fortunate to have a highly ethical and honest Mount Zero brand of pink-lake salt which is hand harvested from the Pink Lake near Dimboola in Victoria. Mount Zero Olives and the lake’s traditional owners, the Jardwadjali community, work together to hand harvest the salt. When moist, its pink hue comes from a red pigment, carotene, which is secreted from the algae in the water. The lake evaporates over summer leaving a crust of salt. This salt contains trace elements of calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulphur, phosphorus, boron, iron, zinc, and manganese. It also contains beta-carotene, which is not normally found in sea salt. The salt loses its pink hue when it dries and looks grey in colour. It has a rounded salty flavour which doesn’t bite the palate.
In conclusion, the salt you choose should have a lot more to do with the quality of it/its origins rather than whether it’s directly from the sea or a saline lake. Rather, you should identify your preference based on the taste as each salt will vary depending on the environment from which it is derived and its subsequent handling.
Interested in reading more about salt? Here are some references we recommend:
Davidson PM. Chemical preservatives and natural antimicrobial compounds, Food microbiology: Fundamentals and frontiers. Doyle MP, Beauchat LR, Montville TJ, editors. Washington, DC: ASM Press; 2001.
Shelef LA, Seiter J. Indirect and miscellaneous antimicrobials, Antimocrobials in food. 3rd ed. Davidson PM, Sofos JN, Larry BA, editors. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor and Francis; 2005. pp. 573–598.
Leistner L. Basic aspects of food preservation by hurdle technology. International Journal of Food Microbiology. 2000;55(1–3):181–186.
Potter NN, Hotchkiss JH. Food science. Food science texts series. 5th ed. New York: Chapman & Hall; 1995.
Doyle MP, Beuchat LR, Montville TJ, editors. Food microbiology: Fundamentals and frontiers. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: ASM Press; 2001.