April 15, 2016
Vol. VIII No. 8
Salt To Taste
Where would we be without salt?
- James Beard

Ask any chef or home cook for a list of a few ingredients they couldn't live without, and all of them would include salt. When used properly, salt enhances the natural flavor of food and bridges the gap between boring and exceptional meals. It balances bitter, sour, and sweet flavors too. 

In the health world, salt often gets a bad rap because it contains sodium, an essential element that when consumed in excess may lead to high blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke and heart disease. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium each day as part of a healthy eating pattern, but Americans consume an average of more than 3,400 mg daily, mostly in the form of salt. 

Only 6% of this is added at the table and only 5% during cooking; the majority of our salt intake comes from processed and restaurant foods. For this reason, many people who transition towards more home-cooked meals find they are able to reduce their sodium intake naturally. The Mediterranean diet is all about cooking and eating wholesome, minimally-processed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and whole grains, and there is little room for high-sodium processed foods. 

For those of us who look to recipes for home-cooked meals, the phrase "salt to taste" is commonly included in the instructions to allow room for cooks to adjust the seasoning according to their preferences. You might think, what is the point of following a recipe if you have to figure out how much salt to add yourself? Recipe writers know that people have different preferences or dietary restrictions, and may use different kinds of salt, some stronger than others, at home. Even if a recipe doesn't use the phrase "salt to taste" or "season to taste," it's best practice to do it anyway. 

The most important thing to remember for successful salting is to taste your food before adding salt, then taste again, and repeat continuously while cooking. This helps build layers of flavor that won't exist if you just salt a dish at the end. 

Tip: If you accidentally add too much salt to your dish, add acid, like vinegar or lemon juice. Starches, like whole grains or potatoes, also do an excellent job of absorbing salt.

Chemically and nutritionally, there is little difference between the different kinds of salt on the market. Ounce for ounce, all salt contains the same amount of sodium. However, they have important differences when it comes to flavoring your food:

Table Salt
Table salt is the most common, cost-effective type of salt, mined from underground salt mines and industrially produced. Its fine crystals make it denser and harder to control when sprinkling, but other than that there is no reason not to use it in your cooking. Keep in mind that it's easier to over-salt with table salt than any other kind of salt, so add a little bit at a time.

Kosher Salt
Kosher salt got its name from "koshering" meat: removing blood from meat in a way that adheres to Jewish dietary restrictions. It is also extracted from salt mines, but unlike table salt, it is raked to form larger, irregular flakes. It's easier to season with kosher salt because it is less dense, and there is less risk of over seasoning. If a recipe calls for kosher salt and you only have table salt, use less than the amount called for. 

Tip: A tablespoon of kosher salt equals roughly a teaspoon of table salt.

Sea Salt
Sea salt is evaporated organically from the sea, mostly in hot, dry Mediterranean climates. The harvesting process allows sea salt to retain its natural minerals, resulting in a noticeably different taste and color from other types of salt. It is more expensive than other types of salt (think French Fleur de Sel), so it's best used to finish dishes, much like extra virgin olive oil. 

Practice salting to taste with the recipes below. 

Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipe.

Ideally, this soup recipe utilizes a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind; the rinds from this cheese add incredible flavor to soups and stews. Simply simmer the rind with the other soup ingredients, then remove and discard. Keep in mind that cheese will add saltiness, so adjust your seasoning accordingly.

Recipe and photo courtesy of the U.S. Potato Board.

This simple and delicious recipe for kisir, a traditional bulgur recipe, was created by Turkish food writer Ayfer Unsal, and adapted by Oleana Chef Ana Sortun for the 2012 Oldways Culinary tour in Gaziantep and Istanbul. 

Recipe courtesy of Ana Sortun and Ayfer Unsal. Photo: iStockphoto.com.

This classic Greek dish is perfect as a spread, served with other mezes (small dishes), or as an accompaniment to a fish or meat main course. Capers, one of the main ingredients, contain plenty of salt themselves, so it's especially important to taste before adding the sea salt at the end. 

Recipe and photo courtesy of Chef Aglaia Kremezi. 

Raw milk and traditional cheeses are an important part of the Mediterranean diet, and we are celebrating them tomorrow! Learn more about our Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day by clicking the image below:

600+ Registered Events in 14 Countries - Celebrate #rawmilkcheese!

by Mark Kurlansky
In his fifth work of nonfiction, Mark Kurlansky turns his attention to salt. A substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, secured empires, and inspired revolutions.  
by Monique Truong
A work of food fiction, The Book of Salt serves up a wholly original take on Paris in the 1930s through the eyes of Binh, the Vietnamese cook employed by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Truong takes us back to Binh's youthful servitude in Saigon under colonial rule, to his life as a galley hand at sea, and back to Paris.
by Ari Weinzweig
Hailed by the New York Times as one of the best delicatessens in the country, Zingerman's is a trusted source for superior ingredients - and an equally dependable supplier of reliable information about food. An entire chapter is devoted to salt.

Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be.   

To find even more delicious Mediterranean recipes please visit: