The “salt of the earth” is a commonly used expression, referring to one of the world’s oldest and most treasured commodities. Salt has been in existence since the beginning of time, recorded as far back as 6050 B.C. when it was first used in Egyptian ceremonies and as a lucrative trade item in the Mediterranean region.
Its production eventually migrated to the United States in the 17th Century when early colonials and Native Americans boiled brine from natural salt springs. In fact, one of the most commonly used brands for nearly a century has been Morton’s, which is produced right here on our soil. Yet, today, there is growing popularity for flavoring foods with exotic Himalayan salt and sea salt that harkens back to those prehistoric times.
The origins of Himalayan salt
All salt is made from the chemical reaction of sodium and chlorine, two imperative elements for living organisms, including humans—but there are many different kinds to choose from.
As its name might imply, Himalayan salt is mined from deposits in the Himalayan mountain range—more specifically, from the Punjab region of Pakistan. This kind of salt was formed more than 250 million years ago, making it one of the oldest minerals known to man. Himalayan salt is among the healthiest flavoring options, as it is completely natural and mined by hand.
One of its most distinctive properties is that Himalayan salt is pink in color rather than the typical bleached white hue more common in table salt. This is because the mine in which the salt is collected contains high amounts of iron oxide, the same chemical compound found in rust. When iron oxide reacts with sodium chloride, the result is a pinkish color. Himalayan salt also contains copper, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, all of which provide extensive benefits.
There is a slight flavor difference as well, with Himalayan salt providing more potency. While this provides great flavor as a finishing salt on dishes, it is sometimes too rich, especially when used in baking.
Himalayan salt in diet
It is a known fact that too much salt in daily diets can contribute to high blood pressure, with many experts stating that adults shouldn’t consume more than one teaspoon (or six grams) of salt per day. The great thing about Himalayan salt is that it provides more flavor than most other types, so a little goes a very long way. Just a pinch provides oomph to otherwise bland dishes, and helps to bring out natural flavors in vegetables, proteins, and soups (not to mention adding a nice color when sprinkled on top).
However, unlike table salt that has added iodine, Himalayan salt does not contain this mineral, which may need to be supplemented with concentrated foods like eggs, fish, and seaweed.
Himalayan salt can be more than just a seasoning, too. You can actually use a block of it to cook food. Salt blocks are a great source of trapping in heat; just preheat it slowly by placing on top of your stove. When it’s warm, place food on top and let it cook. Likewise, Himalayan salt blocks can also be used to keep food cold. Place it in the freezer, along with the food on top, to maintain the correct temperature. In fact, salt has been used for centuries to preserve food, especially meats and fish, because bacteria cannot thrive in a salty environment.
A creative recipe using Himalayan salt
While Himalayan salt tastes great on almost any food, here’s one recipe that uses the seasoning a bit differently.
Salt and Vinegar Brussels Sprouts Chips
If you love the crunch of potato chips but want a healthier option, try making these tasty Brussels sprouts crisps at home. Cut off the outer leaves and then toss with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and sea salt flakes. Bake for 10 minutes and voila! You have your new favorite snack.
Himalayan salt for health and beauty
It’s not just the kitchen where Himalayan salt can work its magic. It’s also useful in a number of beauty routines.
- Body scrubs: Like sea salt, Himalayan salt can be used as a body scrub. Its coarse texture will slough away dead skin cells that could otherwise clog pores. The additional minerals also contain anti-aging properties that can restore skin cells to a healthy state.
- Salt lamps: Himalayan salt has also been used to create special salt lamps. Salt lamps emit negative ions, which work like natural ionizers to purify and clean the air by neutralizing allergens, dust, pollen, mold, fungus, pet dander, and odors that allow for better respiratory health.
- Brine baths: These baths are also another common and therapeutic use of Himalayan salt, particularly for people with dry skin. Soaking in this concentrated saltwater solution helps to open pores and can naturally exfoliate the skin by gently removing the top layer, resulting in healthier and more moisturized skin.
Origins of sea salt
Unlike Himalayan salt that is collected from land deposits, sea salt is gathered from water—mostly from the Mediterranean Sea. It is then dried in the sun and evaporated for a few cycles to produce a desired thickness and bleached white color. Sometimes sea salt may take on a distinct hue (even pink) due to the different algaes and clay found in the water where it is harvested.
Sea salt in diet
The amount of sodium in salt—sea, Himalayan, or iodized (aka table salt)—is pretty consistent. The best way to ensure you only consume it in moderation is to choose a type that has a strong flavor profile that can naturally enhance the taste of food with just a small amount. Sea salt is sometimes preferred by chefs and at-home cooks that say it has the best flavor and texture; it’s also widely available and affordable.
While sea salt can be used in many cooking applications, such as adding a little something to proteins, vegetables, soups, and sauces, it can also be more readily used in baking. Its coarser texture can also add a another layer to some foods such as caramels.
Sea salt has other benefits in the kitchen, too. It can act as a gentle abrasive to clean cast iron pans by absorbing excess amounts of grease. It can also be used to remove fish smells from cutting boards or keep the refrigerator fresh. Like baking soda, sea salt has odor-absorbing properties (try sprinkling in stinky shoes, too).
A creative recipe using sea salt
While sea salt tastes great on almost any food, here’s one recipe that uses the seasoning a bit differently.
Salted Chocolate S’Mores Tart
No need for a campfire for this delicious recipe. Instead, a spiced shortbread crust is filled with sea salt-flavored chocolate ganache and then topped with a marshmallow topping made from healthy gelatin and egg whites.
Sea salt in health and beauty
Sea salt has also long been touted by wellness experts for its medicinal and healing properties.
- Sore throat remedy: Gargling with a saltwater solution can help heal sore throats, and is also recommended after some dental procedures.
- Foot bath: Been standing all day or walking for miles? Soak tired feet in a salt water bath to help them feel invigorated and relaxed.
- Facial and body scrub: A combination of sea salt and olive oil produces a quick and easy facial scrub that will help to remove dry skin and leave it soft and smooth. This same scrub can be used on any rough patches on the knees and elbows to buff away dry skin. It also works great on heels, especially when paired with the foot bath.
Final thoughts on Himalayan salt and sea salt
Salt has had a huge impact on society. The location in which cities and towns were once established was based on how close they were to certain resources, salt being amongst the most important. Whole trade routes were developed around salt mines, and people would travel from all over the globe to get their hands on the sought-after seasoning and preservative. It was even used as currency in ancient China, pressed into small discs with the emperor’s face embossed on them.
While salt has become a more widely accessible commodity, it is no less valued today, especially with the growing movement to have natural and pure substances added to food rather than chemicals and artificial preservatives that run abundant in processed products. In this regard, history may be repeating itself and Himalayan salt and sea salt may just be at the top of their game again.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho