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A Dash of Salt Knowledge

(post, KR Hendricks)


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Last week, my family and I drove to Berchtesgaden, in the the very southeast corner of Germany, to tour a salt mine. The mine dates to the 16th century and is still in operation. In addition to lots of info about mining techniques, we learned about the mineral itself.

What I didn't know about salt was alot!

The base mineral composition of all salt is sodium chloride. Pure salt (i.e. 100% sodium chloride) is rarely found in nature. It usually contains smaller amounts (>16%) of other minerals, such as iron, potassium, magnesium, chlorine and sulfur. Salt is either harvested from lakes, seas or oceans, or is mined from the ground where ancient seas used to be.

There are 2 Kinds of Salt and the Rest is Clever Marketing.

Unrefined - as the name says, it is salt that has not been processed beyond drying and/or grinding, although it is usually naturally purified. Because it is in its natural state, unrefined salt comes in a wide range of colors and flavors depending on what other minerals it is mixed with. Some examples: kosher salt, sea salt, Celtic sea salt, Fleur de Sel, Himalayan pink salt, gray salt, black salt.

Given that all of these salts are more than 84% the same (sodium chloride), it takes marketing to convince people that the flavor and health benefits of their gourmet salt are worth paying crazy amounts of money for.

Refined - unrefined salt that has been processed. This usually involves treating it with chemicals to remove the other minerals, so the result is nearly pure sodium chloride. It is also bleached to make it bright white. Table salt, or what you normally find in a salt shaker, is refined salt that contains anti-caking agents to prevent clumping and is often fortified with iodine and fluoride.

Does Salted Water Boil and Cook Food Faster? No and Yes. 

Salted water does NOT boil faster. Actually the opposite is true, because salted water reaches the boiling point at a higher temperature than plain water. 

Technically, salted water cooks food faster because it gets hotter. However, you have to add an obscene amount of salt to achieve this effect....try 4 tablespoons per quart of water to increase the boiling point by about 1 degree F. In the end, the pinch of salt you add to the cooking water just makes whatever you're cooking taste better.

Salt is One of the Best Natural Preservatives 

Salt does 2 things to help preserve food:
 draws excess water out of the food, and excess water creates the conditions in which bacteria and other microorganisms flourísh
 draws water out of the cells of bacteria and microorganisms either killing them or preventing them from reproducing

Salt still plays a role in preserving foods, such as cured meats and salted fish, and fermented products, like sauerkraut. It is also still used as part of the preservation process to the extend shelf life of canned and packaged food.


The only part of our salt mine tour that got me skeptical was when the guide said "Studies have shown that you can't really eat too much salt, because your body just flushes out what it doesn't need!" Hmmmm. Not sure my father's cardiologist would agree with that. But he's not trying to sell salt in the mine gift shop, is he?