Salt is a dietary mineral essential for animal life, composed primarily of sodium chloride. Salt flavor is one of the basic tastes, and salt is the most popular food seasoning. Salt is also an important preservative.
Salt for human consumption is produced in different forms: unrefined salt (such as sea salt), refined salt (table salt), and iodized salt. It is a crystalline solid, white, pale pink or light grey in color, normally obtained from sea water or rock deposits. Edible rock salts may be slightly greyish in color due to this mineral content.
Chloride and sodium ions, the two major components of salt, are necessary for the survival of all known living creatures, including humans. Salt is involved in regulating the water content (fluid balance) of the body. Salt cravings may be caused by trace mineral deficiencies as well as by a deficiency of sodium chloride itself. Conversely, overconsumption of salt increases the risk of health problems, including high blood pressure.
Forms of Salt
Unrefined Salt: Different natural salts have different mineralities, giving each one a unique flavor. Fleur de sel, natural sea salt harvested by hand, has a unique flavor varying from region to region.
Some advocates for sea salt assert that unrefined sea salt is healthier than refined salts. However, completely raw sea salt is bitter due to magnesium and calcium compounds, and thus is rarely eaten. The refined salt industry cites scientific studies saying that raw sea and rock salts do not contain enough iodine salts to prevent iodine deficiency diseases.
Refined Salt: Refined salt, which is most widely used presently, is mainly sodium chloride. Food grade salt accounts for only a small part of salt production in industrialised countries (3% in Europe) although world-wide, food uses account for 17.5% of salt production. The majority is sold for industrial use. Salt has great commercial value because it is a necessary ingredient in the manufacturing of many things. A few common examples include: the production of pulp and paper, setting dyes in textiles and fabrics, and the making of soaps and detergents.
Table Salt: Table salt is refined salt, 99% sodium chloride. It usually contains substances that make it free-flowing (anticaking agents) such as sodium silicoaluminate or magnesium carbonate. It is common practice to put a few grains of uncooked rice or half a dry cracker (such as Saltine) in salt shakers to absorb extra moisture when anticaking agents are not enough.
Salt intake can be reduced by simply reducing the quantity of salty foods in a diet, without recourse to salt substitutes. Salt substitutes have a taste similar to table salt and contain mostly potassium chloride, which will increase potassium intake. Excess potassium intake can cause hyperkalemia. Various diseases and medications may decrease the body's excretion of potassium, thereby increasing the risk of hyperkalemia. If you have kidney failure, heart failure or diabetes, seek medical advice before using a salt substitute. A manufacturer, LoSalt, has issued an advisory statement that people taking the following prescription drugs should not use a salt substitute: Amiloride, Triamterene, Dytac, Spironolactone (Brand name Aldactone), Eplerenone and Inspra.
- "Sea Salt is Good for You."
- Iodine in Non-Iodized Sea Salt.
- European Salt Producers' Association
- Roskill Information Services.
- Nutritional analysis provided with Tesco Table Salt, from Tesco Stores Ltd (UK) states 38.9% sodium by weight which equals 98.9% sodium chloride.
- LoSalt Advisory Statement (PDF)
- Department of Health, Dietary Reference Values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the UK: Report of the Panel on DRVs of the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food Policy , The Stationery Office.
- Kurlansky, Mark. Salt: A World History. New York: Walker & Co., 2002.
- Laszlo, Pierre. Salt: Grain of Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.