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Benefits of Natural Unprocessed Salt - From the Tables of Kings to Celebrity Chefs

Susanna Sisson's picture

I grew up on table salt. You remember it, the old Morton salt in the navy cardboard container with a picture of a little girl in a yellow dress holding an umbrella. I even remember my mom ordering a Morton salt umbrella for me when I was a kid. But I digress.


Thinking back that’s a confusing image which must have had a story behind. So, I googled. As it turns out the little girl represents the exact problem with table salt that I’m about to explain. So, although that little girl who just turned 100 in 2014 is an icon, you might want to rethink your salt choices. The good news is Morton has too. [1][2]

Today there’s a whole lot of evidence and science about health and salt. It’s been demonized for causing high blood pressure which by the way is not true and it’s been praised for lowering the rate of thyroid disease because iodine was added back in 1924 after people in the Great Lakes area began to develop goiters. Iodizing salt improved thyroid function and people had better health until the 1960’s when the government lowered the amount of iodine to be used in salt.

The amount of salt in the human body is about 0.4 per cent of the body's weight at a concentration pretty well equivalent to that in seawater. So a 50kg/110lb person would contain around 200g of sodium chloride - around 40 teaspoons. Salt, or sodium chloride (NACL) is considered an electrolyte. Without salt our cells would not conduct electricity and our hearts would not beat. Without salt we would all die.

The history of salt is fascinating, too. Salt dates back to at least 2700 B.C. in China and there is evidence it was used in prehistoric times. Civilizations were built around salt. Early Egyptians showed the process of making salt in their hieroglyphics around 1450 B.C. Salt was once traded like gold and considered as valuable. Greek slave traders bartered salt for slaves. [4]

Since it is a prized commodity salt has been taxed many times throughout history by different empires. These tariffs financed wars and conquests, built roads and canals such as the Erie canal in 1825 which connects the Great Lakes to New York’s Hudson River and has been called "the ditch that salt built” because salt tax revenues paid for half the cost of construction of the canal. [4]

Cities have been named for salt – Salzburg, Austria; As-Salt, Jordan; Salt Lake City, Utah; Saltville, Virginia. There are also salt flats such as the Bonneville Salt Flats found in Utah and Badwater Basin in Death Valley. In Argentina the largest salt flat is called Salar de Arizaro and is located in the Andes in north-western Argentina, bordering with Chile. Salar de Uyuni (or Salar de Tunupa) is the world's largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi). It is located in the Daniel Campos Province in Potosí in southwest Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes and is at an elevation of 3,656 meters (11,995 ft) above mean sea level.

Salt has been used in religious ceremonies and to ward off evil spirits in some cultures. The Bible contains at least 40 verses mentioning salt in both the Old and New Testament. [5] In the book of Genesis in the Old Testament, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for disobeying and looking back at Sodom. In the New Testament salt was used as a metaphor or in parables to epitomize wisdom, steadfastness and honor, incorruptibility, and an eternal alliance between God and man. In Rome, on the eight day following his birth, a piece of salt was rubbed on the baby to keep away the demons and evil spirits. For the ancient Hebrews salt was a symbol of joy and brotherly love and gathering around the table for meals. Salt was used by many cultures in burial rituals. The Egyptians used salt in their mummification process. The Dalai Lama was buried sitting up in a bed of salt in 1933. [4]

In the Southwestern United States the Pueblo Indian tribes worship the Salt Mother. Other native tribes had significant restrictions on who was permitted to eat salt. Hopi legend holds that the angry Warrior Twins punished mankind by placing valuable salt deposits far from civilization, requiring hard work and bravery to harvest the precious mineral.

The word salt originates from Old English sealt (noun), sealtan (verb), of Germanic origin; and is related to Dutch zout and German Salz (nouns), from an Indo-European root shared by Latin sal, Greek hals ‘salt.’ People have been compared to salt in phrases such as “salt of the earth” and “true to his salt” versus “not worth his salt” or having to take someone “with a grain of salt”. People have been said to have a “salty wit” or “salty personality” or “salty dog” a common name for a seafarer. The word salad is derived from salt, and in ancient times when Romans salted their leafy greens. Many other words come from the word salt – salary, sauce, salsa, salami a type of salted meat.

To "Rub salt in a wound" is usually thought to have a negative connotation of making things worse but salt was actually used to ward off infections. Wars have been lost because soldiers did not have access to salt and could no longer fight due to injury or poor health. In the Napoleonic War thousands of Napoleon's troops died during his retreat from Moscow because their wounds would not heal as a result of a lack of salt. In 1777, the British Lord Howe was jubilant when he succeeded in capturing General Washington's salt supply.

Similarly during the Confederate war, salt production facilities in Saltville, Va., Virginia's Kanawha Valley and Avery Island, Louisiana, were early targets of the Union Army. The North fought for 36 hours to capture Saltville, Va., where the salt works were considered crucial to the Rebel army. In fact, Confederate President Jefferson Davis offered to waive military service to anyone willing to tend coastal salt kettles to supply the South's war effort. In addition to dietary salt, the Confederacy needed the precious mineral to tan leather, dye cloth for uniforms and preserve meat.

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Salt mining continues today throughout North America in Kansas, Louisiana, Ohio, New York, Texas, Ontario, New Brunswick (potash and salt), Quebec, and Nova Scotia.

Salt production in Kansas, Utah, Louisiana, New York, Ohio and Michigan in the U.S. has enriched local history and culture. Branding by Morton has made it a highly-recognized name in American commerce. Salt mining under the City of Detroit, Michigan has been a long-standing activity. [3]

There are several types of salt and not all are created equal. So how do we know which ones are best?

• Table salt – Is processed at high temperatures (over 1200 degrees Fahrenheit) which not only strips it of any mineral value, it changes chemical bonds so that it is not recognized in the body. Table salt also has more sodium chloride than unprocessed natural salt. In addition, table salt contains additives such as silicon dioxide which damages the blood vessels and anti-caking agents, like aluminum hydroxide, are then added to improve how it pours and this additive is now suspected of being a possible cause of Alzheimer’s disease.

• Himalayan salt – Himalayan salt is hand-mined from ancient sea salt deposits from the Khewra Salt Mine in Pakistan. It not only tastes better than table salt, it has a distinctive pink crystalline appearance, and provides up to 84 different types of minerals in their natural form and is absorbed better because it is not processed. It not only is absorbed better it helps other trace minerals to be absorbed properly. Real salt helps to remove acidic toxins from your system and can assist in bringing your body’s pH levels back into the normal, slightly alkaline range. It helps maintain proper intracellular water levels. Natural salt improves nervous and muscular system function by reducing cramps. It is a better replacement of necessary minerals when people sweat and minimizes fluid retention which helps prevent varicose veins, as well as swollen ankles and feet. Himalayan salt has an anti-histamine effect and can help clear up lung congestion and excessive mucus. This natural salt lessens the chances of developing osteoporosis by improving bone density and structure. There is also a lower risk of kidney problems and heart disease with real salt. A mixture of Himalayan salt and honey take at bedtime can regulate melatonin and improve sleep. Just mix, 5 teaspoons of raw, unprocessed honey with one teaspoon of Himalayan salt. Then place a small amount under the tongue before you go to sleep.

• Indian black salt - Indian black salt, also known as kala namak or sanchal, is a volcanic rock salt commonly used in India, Pakistan and other Asian countries. The “nblack” salt is actually pinkish-grey due to the presence of iron and other minerals. Indian black salt has a very distinctive sulfurous taste, often compared to hard-boiled egg yolks.

• Sea Salt – Just as the name implies sea salt is harvested from the ocean. The mineral composition includes potassium, magnesium and calcium in addition to sodium chloride and the appearance of sea salt depends on what region of the world it was collected from. Hawaiian sea salt is often pink due to the iron rich composition of the islands but can be black if harvested from Molokai, Hawaii where black lava rock is plentiful. Celtic salt or sel gris is a coarse greenish grey moist granular and rather chunky sea salt that is raked once salt crystals have sunk to the bottom of the ponds.

• Fleur de Sel - Hand-harvested from the same salt evaporation ponds as sel gris, this sea salt is collected by scraping salt crystals from the water's surface before the crystals sink to the bottom of the evaporation ponds. Fleur de sel -- "flower of salt" in French -- is traditionally, though not exclusively, harvested in Guérande, Brittany.

• Smoked sea salt – These salts are slow smoked in cold smokers to infuse the flavor of the type of wood used to smoke the salt such as apple, peach, hickory, mesquite, or alderwood. They can be very pricey, anywhere from $10 - $30 and up a pound but worth the investment.

• Infused salts – Gourmet salts are extremely popular especially since the advent of cooking shows and celebrity chefs are a wonderful addition to any kitchen. They can be infused with anything from truffles to wine, lemon zest, tomato basil, a wide variety of peppers, matcha tea and even expresso. For the gourmet cook or anyone with a discerning pallet, these salts will add flavor and variety. [9]

Salt is the life’s blood of oceans and living creatures whether on land or from the sea so we should be very aware of what kind of salt we put in our bodies. While most of us did grow up with the little girl on the Morton salt container it’s clear there are many other choices. In this case variety is truly the spice of life.

1. http://www.mortonsalt.com/our-history/history-of-the-morton-salt-girl
2. http://www.mortonsalt.com/for-your-home/culinary-salts
3. http://www.saltinstitute.org/news-articles/iodized-salt/
4. http://www.saltworks.us/salt_info/si_HistoryOfSalt.asp
5. http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Salt
6. http://www.healthambition.com/healthiest-type-of-salt/
7. http://www.saltworks.us/fusion-flavored-salts.html#.VjmArLerTIV
8. http://www.saltworks.us/wholesale-bulk-gourmet-sea-salt.asp