A pinch makes a dish but more spoils it. Salt, the most essential cooking ingredient requires a judicious culinary decision. Often ignored unless its absence forces you to dash for it. Salt that rests silently in a ceramic shaker on your dining table has witnessed a history of torn kingdoms and trade empires.
There were wars fought, kingdoms attacked, and control tactics employed for salt. Salt was a precious commodity for ancient civilizations almost as valuable as gold.
It has played an astonishingly varied role in the history of human societies, from a condiment to currency and to the preservation of foods, like vegetables, meat, and fish.
Finding salt was difficult for the early man independently. Animals frequented places where salt was concentrated. This path came to be known as 'salt licks'.
Man followed this path which developed into trails and the surrounding areas later became urban settlements.
How Much Salt Do We Need?
Salt mainly contains sodium chloride and other chemical compounds. It is an essential mineral for the health of humans and animals. Salt is required in small amounts and its excessive consumption is harmful.
Salt intake in India is about 11 g per day, above the WHO’s recommended maximum intake of 5 g (approximately 1 tsp) per day. Processed and packaged food contains contain lots of salt and when consumed on a regular basis contributes to increased sodium in the body.
Food without salt becomes tasteless. However, “Salt should be consumed in moderation”, says Avni Kaul, Nutritionist, Dietician & Wellness Coach, "It shouldn’t be excessive or too less", she explains.
Benefits of Salt
The sodium in the salt helps in maintaining the fluid in the blood cells and the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine.
Our bodies need sodium to maintain the right balance of fluids, to transmit nerve impulses and for contraction and relaxation of muscles.
Our body cannot make salt and therefore we must rely on food to get it. High intake of salt can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Salt is used as a preservative. Egyptians were the first to discover the preservation quality of salt.
The sodium in the salt pulls the moisture that causes the growth of bacteria in food. It dries the food and assists in storing food for long periods without refrigeration.
Types of Salts
There are many kinds of salts. Some salts are concentrated, some dissolve quickly and some need to be added to finish a dish.
“If we aren’t aware of these differences then we are likely to either over or under-salt our food.”Avni Kaul, Nutritionist, Dietician & Wellness Coach
1. Table Salt
Table salt comes from mining salt deposits. It is then processed into fine crystals for easy mixing in the food. This processing removes minerals from table salt.
A teaspoon of table salt contains about 2300 mg of sodium. It is fortified with Potassium iodide and an anti-caking agent is also added to prevent clumping.
This anti-caking agent gives off a metallic taste when used in huge quantities. Therefore, “table salt must not be used in savory recipes, however, it is suitable for baking a small quantity is required,” explains Avni.
2. Pink Salt
The salt with light pink colour is easily identifiable. Harvested from the Khewra Salt Mine in the Himalayan Mountains of Pakistan, this is the purest of salts.
It contains about 84 trace elements and minerals. As this salt is expensive it is mostly used in finishing dishes.
3. Rock Salt
This salt is mined in the foothills of the Himalayas in the Salt Range mountains of the Indo-Gangetic plains located in the Sindh region of Punjab and is free of any chemical processing.
Rock Salt is rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, iron, zinc, sulphur, oxygen, and cobalt.
4. Sea Salt
This salt is made by evaporating seawater and consists of minerals. Sea salt is a good option for both savory and sweet recipes.
5. Black Salt
This salt is stronger than other salts. This comes from the mines of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan.
It is used in Ayurvedic medicine for its therapeutic properties. Known as ‘kala namak’ it is quite popular in Indian cuisine.
Ayurveda on Salts
The salty taste is one of the six tastes (sweet, sour, pungent, bitter, astringent, and salty) that Ayurveda lists for a balanced diet.
Sushruta, Charaka, and Vagbhata have described some specific Salts (Lavanam) like Saindhava, Samudra, Vida, Sauvarcha, Romaka, Audbhida, Gutika, the Katu Group, Krsna, and Pamsuja Lavanas.
Saindhava (Rock Salt), according to Sushruta is beneficial for the eyes, is cooling, and alleviates all three doshas.
Charaka calls it the best of salts and according to Vagbhata it is a digestive.
Samudra or sea salt according to these physicians is slightly sweet, laxative, and heavy. Ayurveda suggests consuming the right type of salt depending on your dosha for health.
Healthy Salt Intake
A healthy way of consuming salt is by restricting the convenience, packaged and processed foods, advises Avni, "the bulk of salt in an average person's diet comes through these foods.”
If at times you give in to salt cravings, she suggests drinking water. "When you are hydrated, the kidneys are able to remove the sodium through urine," she explains.
A diet high in salt can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, and obesity. In such cases restriction on salt consumption can be beneficial under the guidance of a nutritionist or a doctor.
Potassium and sodium are essential electrolytes required for the proper functioning and maintaining fluid and blood volume in the body. A high sodium diet with less potassium could result in high blood pressure.
It is beneficial to include potassium-rich foods like broccoli, spinach and sweet potatoes banana, oranges, apricots, coconut water, prunes, raisins, and dates.
Tips to Reduce Salt
- Stop eating heavily fried snacks, packaged foods, and ready-to-eat food.
- Eat meals on time to avoid any cravings.
- Substitute these for home-cooked meals and snacks
- Remove the saltshaker on the table.
- Have your salads without salt. Adding fresh lemon juice and pepper powder takes care of salt cravings.
- Try to include healthy salts and reduce the consumption of table salt.
If your diet is heavy on salt, then it might be difficult to change the habit overnight. Salt like sugar is addictive, therefore it needs to be reduced carefully.
Create a weekly meal plan based on these tips and follow it. Over a period, you will be able to enjoy your meals with less salt.
(Nupur Roopa is a freelance writer and a life coach for mothers. She writes articles on environment, food, history, parenting, and travel.)