Gourmet salt brings varied color, texture to the table

In one of my favorite cookbooks, Julia Child states that “salt is salt” and that she was unimpressed with the gourmet salts on the market. But I have to disagree. I was once in a mine called Zipaquirá, located outside of Bogota, Columbia. The salt mine was very close to the famous emerald mines and boasted a huge Roman Catholic cathedral blasted entirely out of the salt mine. The glittering black walls didn’t look anything like table salt to me.

Just the sheer number of varieties that are available at gourmet grocery stores would indicate that one salt is definitely not like the other and that they all have different uses. Many are sea salts that come in shades of white, red, black and green and gray. Many come from mines deep in the earth and are often pink in color. There are Mediterranean salts and Celtic salts. There are textures from super fine to fine to medium, coarse, and rock salt. There are slabs of salt that can be heated and used for cooking at the table. Salt has been used as a tenderizer and a preservative for thousands of years. Salt has medicinal properties also. Salt scrubs exfoliate dead skin cells and leave the skin feeling satiny smooth. Salt lamps absorb radiation waves and clean smokey rooms. There is a spa in Boulder that has salt rooms specifically for asthmatics.

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Local salt maven, Sara Hale at the Food Co-op in downtown Fort Collins, became a fan of all the possibilities of salt while working at the Yampa Spa and Vapor Caves in Glenwood Springs. She began by listing the salts available at the co-op and their qualities.

First, there is Guistos Extra Fine Sea Salt, a versatile salt which has a higher nutritional value than regular table salt. Next, she mentioned one of my favorites: Sel Gris, a sea salt from the salt pools on the coast of the Brittany region of France. This salt is cultivated from sun-dried ocean water and has a slightly gray tint that comes from a fine coating of ocean clay. The clay is a highly effective digestive aid and also alleviates bloating. It has a coarse grind and a delightful crunch, is high in mineral content but lower in sodium. Still, the merest sprinkle provides a good, solid wallop of salty flavor.

Among the pink salts, there is Utah Real Salt, which does not come from the Great Salt Lake. Instead, this salt is taken from an ancient sea bed in central Utah. This salt is currently harvested from 300 feet below the surface of the earth. A layer of bentonite clay has protected it from erosion and the possibility of modern contamination rendering this salt superior to the sea salts, which are inclined to traces of modern pollutants. This salt contains more than 60 natural trace minerals, including iron, which is the element responsible for the pink color. I like the fine texture of Utah Real Salt for cooking and baking.

Another pink salt is the Himalayan Pink Salt, which comes from Pakistan. The pink Himalayan salt crystals are formed in veins within the mountains of rock salt and contain the highest elemental content of all the salts in the world. This is also the purest salt in the world, being mined at depths of between 700 and 1100 feet and utilizing ceramic mining tools so as not to contaminate this very special salt with metal tools. The co-op carries a coarse variety for use in grinders and the salt slabs which have become popular with gourmet chefs. There is also an importer in Fort Collins, Evolution Enterprises, importing salt lamps, slabs, tea lights, animal salt licks and other products, including bath salts and cosmetic scrubs made from this very special salt.

Another one of my favorite salts available at the co-op is the Durango Smoked Sea Salt. This is a sea salt that is smoked with untreated hickory wood. This salt adds a wonderful smokey flavor to foods and is delicious in pesto, on burgers or steaks or whenever you want to add a dash of smokiness.

Among the many gourmet salts to be found at Whole Foods is the Palm Island line of sea salts from the island of Molokai in the Hawaiian islands. Their most basic salt is the Premium White Silver which is the base for their Premium Red Gold, Premium Black Lava and their Premium Bamboo Jade.

The Red Gold gets its color from the Hawaiian Alaea volcanic clay which enhances the mineral content and gives the salt a lovely red color. This finely textured salt is most welcome at the table, not overpoweringly salty but very lively on salads, fish, barbeque and poultry.

The most interesting, to me anyway, is the Black Lava. Black Lava gets its color from activated charcoal, which is an anti-toxin and a digestive aid. While dramatic in color, Black Lava is best used in grilling, roasting or barbecuing. It does not function well as a table salt since it has the texture of beach sand, as I found out the hard way when I created a colorful mix of all these salts and invited guests to dinner.

The Bamboo Jade has a distinctive aroma and is particularly good with Asian foods. This salt is flavored with organic bamboo leaf extract from southern China. The extract itself is abundant in amino acids, anti-oxidants and vitamins and so adds a healthy kick to the salty flavor.

All of the TV chefs, to whom I’m addicted, seem to recommend nothing but kosher salt. Kosher salt is additive free and coarse-grained and it adheres to food better than ordinary table salt. Kosher salt is not good to use in baking because of its coarse texture but it is terrific for salting water for vegetables, potatoes or pasta. The term “kosher” as applied to salt does not refer to the guidelines for kosher foods as written in the Torah. Nearly all salt is “kosher”, even ordinary table salt. The term actually applies to its use in making meats kosher by removing surface blood. However, there does exist kosher certified salt which has been certified by an appropriate religious body.

One thing about all of these salts is that there is no added iodine. Iodine is an essential nutrient and necessary for thyroid and brain health. Iodine may be obtained through supplements, seaweed, dairy products from cows grazing on grasses grown in iodine-rich soil, ocean fish, cod-liver oil, eggs and fruits and vegetables grown in iodine-rich soil.

Sara Hale recommends the following scrub for detoxing, de-stressing and exfoliating.

Salt Scrub
3/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons sea salt
10 drops of lavender oil
Combine all ingredients and rub all over yourself. You won’t believe how good your skin feels afterward. Not to mention smelling like lavender!