Monday, January 25, 2010

Unrefined Sea Salt: The Salt That Shouldn't Be Avoided

Earlier this month, New York City announced an “initiative aimed at encouraging food manufacturers and restaurant chains across the country to curtail the amount of salt in their products,” according to The New York Times.

Considering a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that even a half teaspoon reduction in daily salt intake can have far-reaching benefits for individuals, the city's plan seems like a great idea.
But—as is often the case—it appears that harmful processed foods and ingredients are being grouped with their less-refined cousins, giving the beneficial versions a bad name.

In the media coverage of the salt-reduction initiative, I don’t recall one instance where the difference between processed salt and unrefined salt was discussed. Our bodies need salt (sodium), but, like fat, some versions are healthy and others harmful.

Unrefined sea salt—available in many supermarkets—contains over 80 trace elements (minerals and micronutrients that our bodies need in extremely small quantities) and is necessary for several reasons, including proper cell functioning, protein digestion and muscle contraction. This is the healthy salt, and just a small amount can brighten foods’ flavors.

The salt that New York City wants to limit, though, is a completely different animal. Commercial table salts and the salts used in processed foods have been stripped of their minerals. They are heated to high temperatures, cleaned and bleached with chemicals and administered anti-caking agents.

In simple terms, this processing changes the structure of the salt, not allowing our bodies to properly digest it. The salt builds up in our bodies and we get sick.

More on this tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. I look forward to the sequel tomorrow.

beverly said...

I feel like Ed McMahon on the old Johnny Carson Show: "I did not now that!" Out goes the kosher salt and in comes the sea salt. Thanks Rob!

Anonymous said...

Hey Chef Rob

First time poster here; been reading your blog for awhile. I intend to talk to you lots more in the future but I wanted to ask a question about this one.
First a note about me/us: my wife who did the culinary school thing but not much besides that, and I, a Ph.D. in Philosophy, have slowly been trying to eat in a more healthy way in the last couple years. Hence I look at your blog for lots of stuff, and appreciate much/most of what you do. (In particular, I appreciate your goal to show that it can be easy to eat cheap, healthy, and tasty.)

To the question: does Kosher salt have the same health benefits that unrefined sea salt does? We like both of these (and prefer both to table salt), and so are happy to get rid/minimize our table salt. But should we also prefer sea salt to kosher salt, or is that pretty much mox nix?
My wife's impression is that Kosher salt involves careful removal of iodine, but she's not sure and is curious.

Thanks Rob!
Jon, in Miami

Chef Rob said...


Thanks for reading The Delicious Truth. I'm happy to hear you and your wife are eating healthier.

This is my understanding: Unrefined sea salt is by far the best option. It retains the natural minerals (more than 80) in the sea and has no additives. Overall, the percentage of minerals is small, but our bodies don't need much to achieve the benefits.

Table salt, on the other hand, is chemically processed and stripped of the minerals (termed "impurities," if you can believe that). Table salt is almost completely sodium and chloride, save for additives including iodide and anti-caking agents.

Kosher salt, unlike table salt, does not have additives such as iodide. However, it is washed, baked and dried like table salt, thereby stripping it of the beneficial minerals. FYI, some Kosher salt can be from the sea.

Also, salt labeled "sea salt" doesn't necessarily mean it is unrefined. Make sure the package reads "unrefined."

I hope that helps.