Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sometimes What I Read About Salt Is Not Worth Its...Well...Salt

Whenever I'm doing a cooking demo or a book signing, a number of people can be counted on to ask, "Are your recipes low-salt?"

But rarely do they ever ask if my recipes contain too much celery, paprika, or are written in such a way that might impinge upon the rights of an overly sensitive people group.

No. Salt is the issue of today. Though it's true that sometimes someone will ask if my recipes are low-fat - but that is rare since the low-fat craze has lost a lot of oomph.

So why is salt such a big issue? Because the use of salt has been linked to such maladies as high blood pressure, stomach cancer, asthma, Alzheimer's, kidney stones, osteoporosis and, according to one report I found in a recent edition of Cars and Chicks, eating too much salt may also be responsible for those morons in front of us who drive with their blinkers on even though they have no intention of turning.

Think about it. We've all seen articles and reports with alarming titles like: Salt, The Pillar of Death, or The Hidden Dangers of Salt, or Salt: The Silent Killer, or I Was a Salt-Licking Teenage Mutant.

Yes, salt is getting a bad rap these days. So let me help set the record straight*. Salt, like money, is not evil. (The love of money is the root of all evil). It is not even dangerous. (Too much or too little can  be harmful, but that goes for just about anything). Our bodies need salt (sodium). We cannot function without it. I'm not going to expound on the biological reasons as to why this is the case. That's why God created science textbooks.

No. I'm not here to teach a science lesson. Nor am I here to say that the consumption of salt in today's world is not harmful. I believe, and the data shows, that American's do ingest too much. We should cut back. But not in our day-to-day cooking. Why? because salt does affect flavor. In a big way. The 1/2-teaspoon of salt that we stir into a sauce or sprinkle on a steak would be sorely missed if we were to ban it from our cupboards. No, this thoughtful and moderate use of salt is not the primary culprit in our society's struggle with hypertension or any or the other maladies listed above.

The real culprit? Processed food. Most are loaded with salt. Look at the label of any processed food to see what I mean. If you want to cut down on your sodium intake, cut down on your intake of processed food. I also steer clear of fast food and family-style restaurants as a matter of habit because they also load their dishes with salt.

So, unless you are strictly advised otherwise by your physician, feel free to sprinkle some Kosher salt on that roast, vegetable, or starch. Your body won't mind and your taste buds will love you for it.

I generally use all-purpose non-iodized table salt in most everyday applications, including baking, because the small grains dissolve readily, but I will reach for Kosher salt when I am seasoning meat, fish, poultry or vegetables because it's easier to control and the grains cling a bit better. Oh, and on a side note, have you ever wondered why a good number of chefs (including me) sprinkle Kosher salt on any given item from a height of 12 to 20 inches? It's not to present some type of grand flair. No. The food we prepare will hopefully showcase our talent. The reason we sprinkle salt from such a height is because it is more evenly distributed that way. Go ahead. Try it. And the fact that it looks cool certainly doesn't hurt.

So we've touched on some of the issues of salt. But there's more. Topics like how and when is it best to apply salt. Brining (effective and useful). Those nifty little salt grinders that are turning up in stores and restaurants (silly and useless). And what about the rage over sea salt?

These questions and more will be discussed in a future blog.

Until then, pass the salt, will ya?


*As a matter of record, I am a cook and not a nutritionist, dietitian or doctor (although I once played doctor with the other kids when I was a child). The recommendations made in this blog are the result of careful research, classroom instruction, and the occasional wild guess. Any lawsuits stemming from physical harm incurred from said recommendations should be addressed to the real author of this blog: Andrew Shmedley, 1203 Commorant Way, Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and not to Warren Caterson.


  1. Excellent post Warren! If I had to give up salt, I might as well give up food. I avoid processed foods completely, other than what I might eat unknowingly when I eat out, which is not nearly so often these days. I like natural salt, either sea salt or the pink clay salt. My husband can't tell the difference, but I can.

    You can take my sugar, just don't touch my salt!

  2. Totally agreed. I find the people who are asking about the salt content in home-cooked food are the same ones who are going through drive thru's on a weekly basis...what they don't see won't hurt them, I guess...?
    I use kosher salt in everything, baking included, and have never had an issue with it. Great post, got us home cooks all fired up :)

  3. Ain't it the truth Abbey. Sorta like the folks who order a diet soda then order the pizza with the 10 toppings (the tenth being raw suet).

    And like you, I would normally use kosher in everything, but I'm a cheapskate and use the less expensive table salt in instances where it would be easily dissolved (ie: boiling water for pasta). But if my book hits the best seller list...I'm going straight kosher. :-)

  4. Love it! I am a dietitian, yawn..zzzzz whatever you have to do next, perhaps you won't read this...anyway, don't eat processed foods people. It's that simple. I love the comment referring to those who order a diet soda with their Big Macs (Sigh). The title of a book," Don't eat processed foods...People." :-). Lovely blog, fun read, like the "artwork."

  5. Thanks, Jennifer. I was signing books at a holiday art fest in Sarasota this weekend and I was amazed (always am) when I see folks amble by my table with a fistful of (fill in the blank) 'festival food' in one hand and a diet soda in the other! The really sad thing? The kids they are dragging along (yes, dragging, cuz the little ones are so overweight) are chomping on the same greasy,calorie-laden food. Sigh...

  6. So true! Salt makes food taste good- especially good salt. I can't bear the flavor of most processed foods in part because of the dreadful amount of salt. Also in part because they usually don't taste so great. I loved the post. Thanks for the introduction.
    Sabrina (the tomato tart)

  7. Glad you enjoyed, Sabrina. More helpings to come - seasoned with a little salt! :-)

  8. I have congestive heart failure. My cardiologist told me he didn't care what I ate or how much salt I used in cooking or at the table, but to avoid processed foods and eating at fast/chain restaurants. His is not the standard advice, but it's worked very well for me.

    Most cardiologists prescribe a "low-salt" diet and people start avoiding salt in cooking and eating. But just by avoiding processed foods and most restaurant food, I've already eliminated about 75% of the salt from my diet!

    I agree with Lisa Wallen Logsdon -- If I have to give up salt I may as well give up food. Salt enhances the flavor of food without changing the flavor.

    I also use Kosher salt for nearly everything. Occasionally I use sea salt and even less often table salt.