When it comes to kitchen staples and recipe ingredient lists, few items are as common as salt.
In fact, salt has been a key part of the human diet for centuries, at times even becoming so important that entire economies were built around it. From preservation to flavoring, salt has played an important role in the human food system. And today, there are numerous types available.
One of the most popular continues to be kosher salt, which presents a healthy option even in spite of the ongoing conversation about how much is too much.
The great salt stigma
In the past, salt has gotten a bad rap, targeted as the culprit for a number of potential health issues, from high blood pressure to kidney disease.
But, recent studies have found that the problem isn’t specifically related to salt itself, but rather the overconsumption of it. Current dietary guidelines suggest that Americans eat no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. However, the average daily intake of sodium clocks in at more than 3,400 milligrams—more than double the suggested levels. Since 90 percent of the sodium that we take in is ingested through salt, it makes sense that controlling salt intake is important.
Beyond moderation, eating smart also means choosing the right kind of salt.
The basics of kosher salt
There is a common misconception about kosher salt that it’s made in full accordance with the guidelines in the Torah. But almost any salt is kosher in this nature, even ordinary iodized table salt.
Instead, kosher salt gets its name from its historic use in making meats kosher, particularly in using it to remove surface blood. To do so, meat is first soaked in cool water and drained. Next, the salt is rubbed onto the meat and is let to sit for an hour. Finally, the salt is wiped away, taking any remnants of surface blood with it and ensuring that the meat is fully kosher.
Kosher salt has also been widely used to help preserve foods; in fact, all throughout history, before the more modern invention of the refrigerator was introduced, salt has been utilized to help prevent spoilage.
In terms of appearance, kosher salt appears flattened instead of the more traditional small cubic-shaped crystals you might find with regular table salt. To make kosher salt, traditional salt cubes are crushed under pressure, leaving it more flat so it can better spread over the meat.
Differences between kosher salt and other types of salt
Salt is an ingredient that’s created naturally from the earth, either through rock salt deposits or through evaporated saltwater in the sea. The differences in various types depends largely on how the salt is processed once it’s harvested from the source.
Kosher salt is less refined and has larger flakes than table salt; it’s also coarser. It’s probably the most versatile of all the different types, and is great for seasoning at any time during the cooking process.
Sea salt, as its name might imply, is harvested from evaporated seawater and has barely been processed. It’s a more expensive option, with much coarser texture and larger grains, and it’s a better option for applying to foods during the final stages of cooking.
This type of salt is mined in the Punjab region of Pakistan and is recognized by its distinct pink color. In addition to a seasoning ingredient, Himalayan salt also is featured in salt blocks for cooking or salt lamps for purifying.
Table salt is usually mined from underground salt deposits. It’s also commonly iodized to deliver the essential nutrient called iodine to the body—over time, the American diet has has been depleted of the mineral, which has resulted in a number of health problems for mass populations, but iodizing salt has helped resolve most of those issues. It’s best used at the table, for those who want to add a dash of salt to a recipe.
All three types of salt have their own uses, and can fit within your kitchen in different ways. However, by far, the most versatile option is kosher salt, a key reason that it’s commonly called for in recipes. Since it’s less refined, it also provides an option that’s much closer to what you would find in nature than processed table salt, providing the best levels of minerals.
Some of the possible health benefits of kosher salt
While iodized table salt does deliver increased amounts of iodine to the body, there are numerous reasons that all salt is important for good health, too. The sodium present in salt should always be used in moderation, of course, since too much can have a negative impact on blood pressure and other health factors.
However, cutting out salt entirely isn’t a good idea, either, according to many researchers. Certain studies have actually found that consuming a fair amount of salt each day can help to reduce the risk of many health issues and even prevent death. Some amount of sodium is essential for nervous system and adrenal function, which is why doctors suggest replenishing the concentrations with sports drinks during times of dehydration.
Here are some other benefits:
- Optimal thyroid function: The thyroid gland requires iodine (like that in enriched salts) to help regulate a number of important body processes, such as reducing the circulation of the stress hormone cortisol—and that helps encourage a better metabolism and weight control.
- Blood sugar control: A diet that includes regular salt intake will help stabilize blood sugar levels, according to studies. On the contrary, too many spikes can lead to long-term issues, like diabetes.
- Better digestion: The sodium chloride in salt helps to balance the levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which ensures the best possible digestion of foods.
- Allergy fighter: Salt also serves as a natural antihistamine, so using it can lower swelling in some asthmatic patients, for example.
- Oral health: Gargling with a saltwater rinse can also reduce swelling and provide relief to sore gums or irritated throats in the case of strep throat.
- Body temperature regulation: Salt is also a key component in the body’s ability to regulate its internal temperature. Proper salt intake can help to prevent heat stroke and ensure that you are able to stay as cool as possible during hot summer days. Hydration is vital, but salt intake helps tremendously as well.
Unrefined kosher salt contains no additives and hasn’t been processed, so it contains the highest levels of the 60 trace minerals—such as magnesium, calcium, and selenium—known to be present in salt.
Cooking with kosher salt every day
Kosher salt has plenty of uses: Sprinkling some on meats before grilling can provide seasoning and promote a more solid searing; as well, kosher salt can be added to virtually any dish as it’s cooking to add more flavor. Practically any recipe that calls for salt can use kosher salt as a substitute, as well. Some of the following recipes are great examples of how to use kosher salt in the kitchen for any meal or snack.
Breakfast: Breakfast Pizza
Pizza isn’t just for dinner anymore. This breakfast version includes a gluten-free dough, made from coconut flour, baking soda, and seasonings. Then, it’s layered with hearty toppings like eggs, mushrooms, bacon, and spinach. Salt helps season the dough as well as the toppings, giving you a meal that will take you all the way to lunchtime.
Lunch: Tomato Olive Oil Salad
No need for salad dressing with this fresh salad. Juicy, ripe heirloom tomatoes already have tons of natural flavor, which would be overtaken by a creamy dressing. Instead, enhance this simple dish with the addition of mixed herbs, shallots, extra virgin olive oil, pepper, and a dash of kosher salt.
Make a hearty chicken with roasted vegetables in just one pan! This recipe pairs succulent chicken thighs in a baking dish with potatoes, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes dusted in garlic. After cooking for 45 minutes, a pre-made pesto on top seals the deal, while a pinch of kosher salt adds just the perfect extra touch.
Dessert: Almond Butter Cups
A bit salty and a bit sweet, this is the ultimate dessert that updates the classic peanut butter cup candy with a healthier version. They’re sweetened with a touch of maple syrup and raw honey, and dusted with salt to provide an irresistible bite. Paleo eaters, this recipe is especially for you to cure a nagging sweet tooth and stay on track.
Snack: Rosemary Popcorn Mix
Of course, salt is synonymous with popcorn, but even here you can get creative. Make this tasty party mix by popping sprouted kernels and then mixing in cashews, melted butter, pepper, fresh rosemary, dark brown sugar, and some kosher salt for the perfect balance of salty meets sweet.