There I was, casually salting my fresh salad as I had been doing for years, when out of the blue my friend dampened the mood by stating:
“You’re still using table salt? I heard kosher salt is healthier.”
It’s a good thing I had a great salad to attend to. Otherwise, who knows what said friend’s fate would have been?
Can’t I simply salt my salad without thinking about the 73 other preferable options I could be using? It seems not. The powers to be insist on transforming the simplest of ingredients into another health craze.
But is there some truth to all this fuss?
Here are some facts for you to make the call:
First, let’s give “kosher” some credit where credit is due. As exciting as it is to find such a Jewish word in the most unlikely of recipes, one is left to ponder why its there. The term was coined because the coarse texture and larger size of the salt crystal are perfect for extracting blood in the koshering process. (The notion that kosher meat is healthier has little to do with the salt content and more to do with the requisite dietary and processing laws).
Since Kosher salt is now having its moment, (closely followed by its Himalayan and Sea Salt cousins), it’s worth finding out why.
Table salt is the most refined of all salts, allowing for its smooth consistency. It also has anti-caking agents to keep it from clumping. Kosher salt is coarser because less minerals are extracted. It also has no anti-caking agents added. So in this respect it can be considered healthier.
But the percentage of minerals that are actually present within kosher salt compared to our good friend on the table is pretty minuscule (<1%). You would have to be the princess sleeping on top of 10 mattresses and it the pea underneath for your health to be significantly affected.
There is also the argument that one teaspoon of regular salt contains more sodium than one teaspoon of kosher salt. But kosher salt weighs less than regular salt. If a recipe calls for one teaspoon of regular salt it can’t be substituted for kosher salt in a 1:1 ratio. You would need to add more. Regardless, all salt contains about 40% sodium.
Basically, if you’re switching to kosher salt to avoid a heart attack, don’t. High levels of sodium in all salt can raise blood pressure. Your best bet would be to just eat less salt.
Table salt also has iodine added to it, (hence the “iodized”). In North America, this started in the 1920’s. Back then, most people’s diets didn’t provide enough of the mineral that helps prevent health problems such as intellectual disability, hypothyroidism, and goiter.
Nowadays our diets pretty much contain all the iodine we need, except for when you’re pregnant. That’s when iodine levels tend to drop. So it seems table salt is not taking the back seat just yet.
There is, of course, the taste factor, which I would be slower to judge. There’s no doubt seasoned chefs prefer kosher salt. The larger size of the grain makes it easier to pick up and sprinkle on food. The larger grain also affects the way the salty taste hits your tongue.
In fact, bon appetit, one of the web’s leading foodie magazines for people who are very passionate about serving less food on bigger plates, writes:
“Salt with iodine tastes bad, and you shouldn't use it… if you remember one thing, remember that, and everything you cook will taste better.”
Which I thought was pretty harsh. Especially considering many simple people out there have spent a great deal of time getting accustomed to how much salt they sprinkle on their food, by eye. Switching would be no small feat.
I know that the time I couldn’t find the salt shaker and had to sprinkle roasted potatoes with its prettier, smarter older brother, the kosher salt, nobody at the table stood up and proclaimed it a public holiday. In fact, they didn’t notice.
But as the famous (at least for my grandmother) Hebrew saying goes:
על טעם וריח אין להתווכח
On taste and smell there is nothing to argue about.