You can’t open a magazine or newspaper these days without seeing an article about natural and organic foods. The focus on eating wholesome food runs the gamut from shopping at farmers markets to keeping chickens in the yard for eggs. It’s all about wholesome ingredients.
Yet when we get all that beautiful, expensive, organic food in the kitchen we are told that our best option for seasoning it is industrially processed kosher salt. For years, kosher salt was considered purer than iodized table salt, but in fact, kosher salt is just as processed. A better choice, one that honors our desire for wholesome food, is natural sea salt. It has better flavor and it is better for you.
Recently two on-line articles comparing kosher salt to sea salt were brought to my attention, one in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/03/kosher-salt_n_1471099.html , the other on the Food Network site http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes-and-cooking/kosher-vs-table-vs-sea-salts/index.html. Making a pretense of discussing the issue, both articles concluded the same: salt is salt so the choices of sodium chloride are equal, and as sea salt is more expensive and its flavor qualities are lost in cooking, cheaper kosher salt is the better alternative. This is an important discussion that we must help to a different conclusion.
Salt is the most important ingredient we cook with and we can’t survive without it. Salt helps our taste buds to experience all the nuances of flavor. All salt is originally from the sea, whether harvested today on the coast or mined from a mountain with a 10 million year old sea at its heart; the difference is what we do to it before it hits our plate.
Kosher salt is made by processing out all the naturally occurring minerals and moisture that is inherent in sea salt, and then fabricating it into flakes. Usually an anti-caking chemical is added. More than 99% sodium chloride, it is a dead white color with an acrid and bitter taste.
Natural, unprocessed sea salt has been harvested and used by mankind for thousands of years. As a whole food it contains all the minerals of the sea; not just sodium but also potassium, magnesium and calcium, as well as dozens of trace minerals such as boron, selenium and iodide, all of which the body needs to survive. Its balance of minerals helps the human body to maintain its own balance when it is ingested.
Whole, unprocessed and unrefined sea salt is easy to find in health and natural food stores. I don’t mean the artisan sea salts available on the market that are used to accent cooked foods, though they are endlessly beautiful and evocative and important in their own right. I’m proposing the use of whole, natural sea salt that is affordable to use in bulk to salt pasta water, soups or stews, one that costs little more than the processed salt we use now but is infinitely healthier to eat.
When we choose an artificial, processed salt, we let go of everything we’ve embraced about natural and healthy food. As Mark Bitterman states in his book Salted, “When we cook with kosher salt we sanctify the artificial.”
Frankly, it astounds me that so many educated and experienced food professionals, who spend their days thinking about and making food, still extol the virtues of kosher salt. It is not a natural product, it is not healthy and it’s definitely not gourmet.
Why do chefs and professionals like to use kosher salt? Because it’s easier to handle and it costs less. True, sea salt costs a little more. But since when in this whole national discussion of eating natural vs. processed, organic vs. chemical, harvested locally vs. shipped from China, have the words “it costs less” been the most important factor?
Health benefits and cost aside, the gentle taste of natural sea salt and the sweet, soft, complex flavor it imparts to your food is the biggest reason to stop using kosher and start using whole sea salt. After many years of eating and cooking in a country where kosher salt doesn’t exist, my palate has become accustomed to the pleasantly rounded saltiness that sea salt imparts to a dish. I notice the acridity of kosher when I return to America and eat in restaurants, even great ones. That is what has convinced me.
Saying you choose kosher is like saying you’d rather eat fruit roll ups than an apple. Whole natural sea salt is a fitting and respectful companion for the fresh food we pursue, healthier for you and better tasting.