Salt is one of the most important culinary ingredients in the world. Not only does it amplify the flavors of savory dishes and sweet treats, but it was essential to the formation of civilizations around the world. Salt made international trade possible before refrigeration was invented, and was used as payment for empires’ soldiers. Not to mention, our bodies need salt to survive. Today, salt comes in many different colors, sizes, and flavors, but there’s only one kind that we use in every single 88 Acres product: “Pretzel grain” sea salt from Australia.
THE HISTORY OF SALT
The first records of salt being produced and consumed were in the Sichuan province of China around 3000 BCE. Salt was also used in ancient Egypt from as early as 2000 BCE, for curing fish and meat. When the proteins in meat and fish come into contact with salt, they unwind, which is essentially the same process that takes place when meat and fish are cooked. Salt kills bacteria and also absorbs moisture to prevent future bacterial growth. As a natural preservative, sea salt made international sea-faring trade possible and allowed empires to expand their territory by bringing cured fish and otherwise perishable items on their travels.
FUN FACT: The word “salary” comes from the Latin word for salt because salt was so valuable that it was used to pay soldiers in ancient Rome. This is also the origin of the phrase “worth one’s salt.”
Because it acts as a natural preservative, salt determined much of the evolution of civilization throughout Europe and Asia for hundreds of years, with towns, roads, and industries built in areas where salt could be mined from the earth or harvested from the sea. In fact, salt was first taxed in China in the 20th century BCE and revenues were used to prop up the early Chinese empire, with funds paying for wars and even helping to build the Great Wall of China. Until the 1500s, Italy and China remained the two leading salt traders and producers, respectively. Today, the world’s largest salt producer is still China, with the US, India, Germany, Australia, and Canada producing their fair share as well.
HOW SEA SALT IS MADE
Sea salt tends to come from warm climates with high evaporation rates and little rainfall. It’s made by flooding man-made pools with salt water from the ocean and waiting for the water to evaporate under the sun, which leaves behind various sizes of sea salt crystals. These areas of salt production are known as “salt works.” Salt water is roughly 2.6% salt by weight, but different types of salt are harvested differently and take varying lengths of time to evaporate.
FUN FACT: The Romans salted their greens to reduce their bitterness. This is the origin of the word salad — sal is Latin for salt.
The more specialty varieties of sea salt are harvested differently. For example, one of the most popular types of sea salt, fleur de sel, is made from the light salt crystals skimmed off the surface of the water in the evaporation pools. This skimming method used to be considered “women’s work” as it was believed to require “a delicate touch.” To make coarse sea salt, producers transfer evaporating sea water into successive evaporation ponds.
Photo Credit: Saltworks
Flaky sea salt, like Maldon, is formed with the help of natural winds and precise temperature conditions, which create pyramid-shaped salt crystals on the water’s surface. Because the sun is the only force used to evaporate the water, it may take a year or more for seawater to become sea salt. Once all the water has evaporated with nothing left but sea salt crystals, the salt is raked into large piles on the pools’ banks.
EVERY SHAPE, SIZE & COLOR
Each sea salt-producing region produces salt with its own color, texture, mineral content, and flavor profile, according to the experts. The sea salt we use in all of our products comes from Australia, which is surrounded by Antarctic waters. These frigid waters don’t come into contact with much civilization, which makes them cleaner than many other sea salt water sources. As an extra precaution, our salt undergoes the use of rare earth magnets in a unique optical sorting technology to ensure that it’s free of foreign particles.
FUN FACT: The aging of cheese is a reflection of how fast or slow it absorbs salt. It takes 2 years for salt to reach the center of a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano. But soft cheese, like Camembert or Brie, only age for about a month.
You may have seen salt described as coarse, flaky, or fine, but there are more than 10 different salt grain sizes, all of which have a different culinary application.
Photo Credit: Saltworks
Powder: When you need an even coating, uniform flavor distribution, or quick dissolving salt. Perfect for seasoning popcorn or roasted seeds.
Fine: The essential, everyday salt. Toss your refined table salt over your shoulder for good luck, and replace it with fine-grain sea salt.
Kosher/Pretzel: The perfect topper for everything from pretzels (as the name suggests) to chocolate and granola bars, like we use it! This grain size is also perfect for spice rubs and the rim of your 5 o’clock margarita.
Small: Best for grilling, roasting, and rubbing. Especially good for when you want that crunchy, salty bite.
Medium: If you’re fancy and have a salt grinder at home, this is the grain size for you. This size also makes for a great pickling salt.
Coarse: Mostly used for industrial applications and at-home salt grinders.
Extra Coarse: Ice cream makers are big fans of extra coarse grain salt. If you’re into brining or lavish food presentation, you might need to make extra room in your pantry.
The three major types of salt are sea salt, mineral salt, and table salt. Sea salt comes from evaporated salt water, whereas mineral salt is mined from ancient sea beds that crystallized in the Earth centuries ago. The most popular type of mineral salt is Himalayan pink salt. Table salt can be derived from mineral or sea salt, but is much lower quality.
SEA SALT VS. TABLE SALT
Refined table salt is sometimes harvested from the sea or mined from the earth, but chemicals are always involved in the process. Various chemicals are used to mine the salt and to strip it of all the naturally occurring minerals through a vacuum extraction process. Then, anti-caking agents and iodine are added to the refined salt. Historically, iodine was added to salt to address common iodine deficiencies in the general population, but this additive is not necessary for most Americans anymore. In fact, there are trace amounts of iodine in natural, unprocessed sea salt, in addition to other beneficial minerals like potassium, calcium, and zinc.
We’ve all heard that high-sodium diets are bad for us, but as humans, we actually need to consume some salt to survive. Salt helps transport nutrients and oxygen throughout the body, transmit nerve impulses, move muscles, and keep your heart pumping. It’s estimated that the average human body contains 250 grams of salt, but your body doesn’t make salt itself. As your body loses salt throughout the day from sweating and other bodily functions, it’s important to make sure you replenish your salt intake from what you eat and drink. Compared to refined table salt, sea salt actually tastes saltier, which means you don’t need to use as much to achieve that salty flavor you crave. Replacing your refined table salt with fine-grain sea salt can therefore help you reduce your sodium intake without compromising on flavor.
*To learn everything there is to know about salt, look for Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History at an independent bookstore near you.