Salt is one of those things a body can’t do without. It’s necessary to cell and brain function, keeps us from heat stroke, and seasons our food. But too much can lead to dehydration and high blood pressure. There are many types of salt and just about as many uses. Let’s take a look.
What is Salt?
Salt has been used by man for a very long time. There is evidence of salt processing dating back 6,000 years in Romania, and more evidence in China from the same time frame. Salt, or sodium chloride, is known as the mineral Halite in its natural form.
The oceans consist of about 3.5% salt. Ancient people from Romania, China, and other areas such as Egypt and Peru, found ways to extract the salt from the water. Not only was salt used as currency, but also for food preservation and seasoning. The Great Salt Roads were formed to transport salt from the ocean to the interior regions of countries. Salt was, and still is, used in many religious ceremonies.
Where Does Salt Come From?
Salt is extracted from sea or ocean water in many areas. It is raked onto beaches and turned to catch the wind, or pumped into shallow pools so it can evaporate and form crystals along the edges.
Great crystals of Halite are found underground and mining of the salt there is done much the same as iron mining. Today there are companies that pump sea water onto large trays and the sun is allowed to evaporate the liquid from it, leaving the crystals behind.
Different Types of Salt
There are many types of salt, and here are just some of them:
Note from Matt and Betsy: we use, and believe the best all-purpose every day salt is the Real Salt brand.
- Table Salt – a fine grained salt that often contains an anti-caking agent to keep lumps from forming. It may also contain iodine, a necessary element.
- Kosher Salt – a coarser grained, more flaked salt that has no additives. It is used to “kosher” meats. (find an unrefined kosher salt here)
- Himalayan Pink Salt – a fine or coarse grained salt that contains trace amounts of iron oxide, which gives it the pink color. (find it here)
- Finishing Salt – refers to the best varieties of gourmet salts. Can be a flaked salt or moist crystals that are used to finish dishes. They give a nice presentation and a subtle crunch. (find a finishing salt sampler here)
- Flavored Salt – salt infused with many flavors such as lemon, chili peppers, or smoke. (Continue reading for an easy smoked salt recipe later in the article.)
- French Sea Salt – unrefined light grey sea salts that contain many naturally occurring trace minerals. They also have a slightly lower sodium content than many other salts.
- Grey Salt – known as Sel Gris, this salt contains minerals absorbed from the clay lining of the pool in which it was evaporated. (find it here)
- Hawaiian Salt – can be red or black. Red Hawaiian Salt has added “Alae,” which is a volcanic baked clay. It contains many minerals and has an earthy flavor. Hawaiian Black Salt has added activated charcoal to give it a silky smooth texture. It is often used in detoxification diets, giving dishes color and flavor. (find Red Alaea Salt here and Black Hawaiian Salt here)
- Italian Sea Salt – this salt harvested from the Mediterranean Sea is rich in iodine, fluorine, potassium and magnesium, all found naturally. (find it here)
- Kala Namak – this is a black salt from India. The naturally occurring minerals give it a pinkish, not black, color although it is considered black. It smells of sulfur and is used to give dishes an “eggy” flavor. (find it here)
- Celtic Grey Salt – This is a moist salt with naturally occurring minerals calcium, magnesium, and iron. (find it here)
- Sour Salt – this is not salt at all, but citric acid. It’s not known why this is referred to as a salt.
Uses for Salt
Besides seasoning food and curing meats, there are many other uses for salt.
- Salt is converted electrolytically to make caustic soda, which is lye, to use in soap making. It is also used in stump and root removal products and drain cleaners.
- Salt is ground fine and used to make bath crystals with the addition of herbs and essential oils. It is dissolved in the bath for relaxation. Sometimes Epsom salt, not a true salt, is added to relax the muscles. Or, oil is added to it to make a scrub for the shower.
- Salt is used in the winter to de-ice roads. It is also made into a slurry for the same purpose.
- Salt is used with livestock for maintaining health. Sometimes minerals are added. Salt is also used as an attractant for deer while deer hunting.
- Salt is used in canning and preserving foods.
- Salt is used in agricultural applications, such as mixing with ammonia for lawn fertilizer.
- Salt is used in the firing of clay to produce a hard glaze. It can also be used to alter colors.
- Salt is used as a mordant for cloth in preparation for dying fabrics.
- Salt is used in drying and curing hides.
Making Smoked Salt
Smoked salt is one of my favorite seasonings to use on vegetables and meat. It gives the flavor of being grilled outside even in the cold of winter. There are two methods for smoking salt:
Take a quart jar and fill it ¼ of the way with salt. I like to use a coarse variety like kosher salt. Sprinkle a few drops of smoke flavoring on top of the salt. Add more salt and then more smoke. Keep going until full, leaving about a half inch at the top. Seal the jar and place it in the sun. Shake it once a week for a few weeks. This will distribute the smoke flavor throughout the entire jar. Use as you would any salt.
That was the easy way. This next method is a bit more time consuming, but well worth the effort.
Grill something over hardwood coals. (Note: This can’t be done with propane or natural gas – you won’t get the same results.) When you’re done grilling, place a shallow pan, such as a pie pan, on the rack. Fill with salt. Again, I like a coarser salt like kosher for this. Add a few hardwood twigs, preferably green wood, to the coals. Fresh grass can be used in a pinch. I used rosemary twigs once to impart a subtle flavor. Just use something that will produce smoke. Close the lid and leave alone for 30 minutes or so.
Check your salt, stirring once in a while. It may take a few hours to get a nice smoky flavor on your salt, so be patient. Your salt can look anywhere from grey to reddish. Any color is normal, even if it remains white. I’ve had all sorts of reactions, and all of them still tasted great. When your salt is done, let it cool and transfer to a jar. Seal it and use on veggies or meat.
Don’t want to make your own smoked salt? You can purchase it here.
How about you?
Do you have a unique use for salt? Tell us about it in the comments below!