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The Food Party!

By Laura Stec

E-mail Laura Stec

About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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Tis the Seasonings

Uploaded: Dec 4, 2014
The older I get, the more I think culinary gifts are great choices for friends and family. People will actually use them, and in doing so get turned on to new tastes and techniques. Culinary gifts are easy to find and affordable. You get a lot of gift for your giving! Last year we did an article on some options. This year, I want to focus on just salt.

There's a dramatic difference in the taste of salts. If you have never done a side-by-side comparison of Morton vs. Kosher, please do so. You will never eat Morton salt again ? it tastes terrible. Tinny actually. Also interesting is Morton has double the sodium of Kosher, mostly because the grains are smaller and more can fit in the same space. Morton was made small enough to fit though salt shaker holes,* and to prevent clogging, an "anti-caking agent" is used which could also add to the off taste.

Artisan salts have a more pronounced flavor and texture, and because of this you can actually use less. Some are rich in trace minerals, but you'd have to eat a lot of salt to really benefit health-wise. So use them for taste instead, and some specifically at the end of cooking as a flavor boost. These salts are called "finishing" salts ? applied after the dish is done. Finishing salts can also help finish your shopping lists quite effectively.
There are three basic salts every kitchen should have. Your friends and family might have one of them, but probably not all three. Perfect for stocking stuffers or the hard to shop for person, a jar of quality salt should be appreciated by most everyone this holiday season.

Fleur de Sel
Translated as "flower of the sea," this salt is the granddaddy of all finishing salts, harvested as a layer of fragile crystals. It is carefully skimmed from the top of salt pans, giving it a bright color and clean flavor, and praised for its high minerality, moisture content and crunch. Think Kosher with a college education. Put it in a cute salt bowl and serve at the dinner table. Or use for other non-cooking applications like salad dressings.

Flake Salt
Really fun and unique ? this salt reminds me of snowflakes ? and 'tis the seasoning! Seawater is evaporated into a brine which is heated to produce pyramid-shaped crystals. It comes in different sizes, but I like the really thin, delicate flakes. Sprinkle them on a steak, tofu or veggies after grilling. They add flavor, but also a special, unexpected crunch to any dish.

Sel Gris
Sel gris is not as popular, but certainly as powerful as the first two. Darker in color, it is raked from the bottom of the saltpan during harvest. Sel gris is coarser than fleur de sel, with a stronger, deeper flavor (though it can be found ground fine). If it is coarser ? you want to cook it into dishes such as soups and stews, rather than use as a finishing salt. Or, make sure you grind it fine before using as a finishing agent.

Question ? eating too much sodium is one of biggest problems in the U.S. diet. Guess where most of that salt comes from, and what food is one of the biggest offenders.

Photo by Christine Krieg Photography

* Note: I never use a salt shaker, and certainly not while cooking. You are not in control of your salt if it comes out of a shaker. If you insist on putting your salt in a shaker, make sure to shake it into your hand before adding to a dish, not directly into the dish.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by RW, a resident of another community,
on Dec 4, 2014 at 12:27 pm

We love fancy salts in our house! We use smoked salt for adding to chili, and pink salt for its colorful finish. Mostly, I use sea salt in a grinder while cooking.

I know there is a fair amount of sodium in baked goods like muffins, but also highly processed foods like hot dogs. My guess for biggest sodium offender would have to be a hot dog muffin.

Posted by A Single Guy, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Dec 4, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Okay, I fired up a search engine, not surprised with the results.

From the CDC:

- More than 75% of the sodium Americans eat comes from restaurant, prepackaged, and processed foods.
- Only 5% of dietary sodium is added during home cooking and only 6% is added at the table.
- The remaining 12% of dietary sodium occurs naturally in foods.

Web Link

CDC: "Lots of packaged and processed foods can have high levels of sodium, and they may not even taste salty to many consumers. Breads and rolls, cold cuts/cured meats, and pizza are top contributors of sodium in the American diet."

In addition to those three, the American Heart Association also lists poultry (often brined or otherwise treated with salt), canned soups, and sandwiches from restaurants (cold cuts + bread + processed condiments like mayonnaise).

Web Link

Thus, don't primarily eat things from cans, bottles, or bags. Dine out occasionally, not regularly.

I enjoy the fancy finishing salts myself, for flavor, texture and fun. One whimsical way of presenting them at the table is to use oyster shells.

For ordinary cooking purposes, I use kosher salt.

Great post, Laura!

Posted by RW, a resident of another community,
on Dec 4, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Single guy-She said Guess, not Google! I'm sticking with my original guess of hot dog muffins. =)

Posted by Palo Alto Resident, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Dec 4, 2014 at 3:55 pm

I also am into culinary gifts. Last year I gave out bottles of Palo Alto Firefighters Pepper Sauce and it was huge hit. As a bonus all proceeds go to the Palo Alto Firefighters Charitable Fund. I have no association with the firefighters, I just love their sauce and their whole concept. I think I will take your suggestion and add artisan salts to my gift shopping list, too.

Posted by Frosted, a resident of Blossom Valley,
on Dec 5, 2014 at 11:09 am

Hotdog muffins have got to be up there, even more so if you're eating the kind topped with salted caramel. Who can resist those though?!?! Moderation is key.

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Dec 6, 2014 at 8:26 am

Good guess RW! Harvard School of Public Health says 70% of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods and the biggest culprit is bread! Salt is used in commercial breads not just for flavor, but it also helps with the yeast. I bet hot dog buns are on the top of the list!

Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Dec 8, 2014 at 11:58 am

Max Hauser is a registered user.

A caution about your mention of Kosher salt, Laura (summarizing details I researched some time ago -- apropos sodium in cooking):

First, essentially all table salts (common refined salt, sea salt, Kosher salt, fleur de sel) consist overwhelmingly of sodium chloride (NaCl); differences people report in taste are attributable to trace minerals on the order of 1% of the total; the upshot: all these salts have essentially the same sodium content BY WEIGHT.

Second, Kosher salt got a misleading reputation for lower density than the usual finely-ground table salt (less weight -- i.e., less actual salt -- in a given volume). Cookbook authors of the 1980s (in several cuisines) played up that point, which lies behind your statement "Morton has double the sodium of Kosher."

But that statement is often untrue. It depends on the grain size, which varies widely. It has become increasingly untrue as major salt makers joined the bandwagon of selling "Kosher salt" to a widening home-cooking demand. (The brand I have at home, for example, reports 80% of the sodium by volume of common table salt -- typical of what I've seen in supermarkets).

So, particularly in something quantitative like sodium intake, it pays to read labels.

(If the main topic here were sodium in cooking, not gifts and flavors, I'd expand on use of potassium salt as a substitute for sodium. It's readily available in supermarkets, it's central to the subject though strangely ignored in some popular writing. It doesn't taste the same by itself, but combined with a little common salt in ratio around 2:1 or 4:1, substitutes very well, with a corresponding decrease in gratuitous dietary sodium -- for people who don't get the latter anyway from junk foods, overseasoned prepared foods and condiments, etc.)

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of another community,
on Dec 9, 2014 at 6:44 am

Food Party! readers are smart! Thanks Max Hauser for the post and please do share more about potassium salt - I'd love to hear it for sure. And yes - we know the same, and thanks for the clarification. Kosher is less sodium BECAUSE of it's size. It's a bigger grain, so less fits into the teaspoon. Still, cooks measure that same teaspoon (or whatever)when cooking, so it does actually come out less sodium.

Posted by Greinerrt, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Dec 11, 2014 at 1:38 am

Good post!!! Many people eat too much salt and need to cut down ? whether they have diabetes or not. The great news is, there are loads of spices you can use to give a Christmassy flavour to your food.

Web Link

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Dec 11, 2014 at 7:46 am

Thanks everyone. This blog is coming down today, but still needs clarification. I know there are different brands/types of kosher salt. The one I refer to (double the size of Mortons) is in the red box. Diamond Crystal is the name.

Posted by mv-voice.com, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Dec 7, 2016 at 9:00 am

mv-voice.com is a registered user.

Posted by download1122, a resident of Atherton: other,
on Dec 8, 2016 at 11:43 pm

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Posted by arame19, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Dec 15, 2016 at 10:34 pm

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Posted by Triston934, a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park,
on Dec 21, 2016 at 9:18 am

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Posted by Help With Civil Engineering Projects, a resident of Atherton: other,
on Mar 6, 2017 at 1:37 am

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