Who knew that salt would become a trendy “seasoning?” Back in the day, it was primarily used on food or in recipes to bring out a little essence. Salt came in two varieties – iodized or non-iodized. However, today there is an abundance of choices of flavors and textures of salt available, and I’m fascinated with how they taste and interact with food. On the other hand, my engineer husband refers to salt as a chemical – sodium chloride or NaCl. (I put up with him.)
And then there is the old school way salt is produced and harvested. One of my favorite salt experiences was in Sicily when we visited Trapani and observed old-fashioned windmills still working to pump the water into the salt flats. These flats harvested 3,000 tons of salt a year (at least they did in 2013 when we were there) according to our historian/guide.
The oh so not modern facility – unfortunately I don’t have notes from this trip on how old this windmill is.
I realize it doesn’t look like much, but for a small operation, it sure produces what seems to me like a lot of salt! Next question is did we buy some salt while we were there? Of course, we did!
I found this article that explains a little about the salt flats in Trapani:
“Windmills, which once pumped seawater and ground the salt crystals, still stand. They were likely of Turkish design, built when Sicily was under Spanish rule, around 1500 CE. The Phoenicians may have built the flats long before, to cure their fish. No one knows for sure; history is never simple for an island that’s been conquered over the centuries by Greeks, Arabs, Normans, and others.” Author: Don Genova
More interesting facts about Trapani can be found on Wikipedia. Here is the link: Trapani.
Fast forward to modern-day rock salts. Rock salts don’t need to be kept in airtight containers like the finer-grained salts. That’s why you often see this type of salt in open cellars. I happen to have one myself. I use a tiny spoon in mine. I haven’t quite adopted the finger pinch method a lot of chefs and cooks use, mostly because my hands are messy dealing with ingredients while cooking, and I don’t want to contaminate the salt with any food bits.
A few salts from my cupboard. Yes, I even have a special salt for making cheese. It’s a much finer texture.
The salt we brought back from Italy on our most recent trip. Luckily the Italians shrink wrap a lot of their products these days which makes it easier to transport back to the states in a suitcase. I’m breaking this salt package open right after I finish with this blog!
A couple of my favorites. Bella is produced in Colorado, a family-run business. (Thank you, Jen and Jarvis, for introducing us to their line of products.) You can find their salts and sauces online Bella Salt and Sauce. We are lucky in this area of Oregon to have Red Ridge Farms which has a nice variety of salts available and also produces amazing olive oils and vinegar, as well as wine. As you can see, I’ve used most of my trio and ready for a trip back to their beautiful property to buy more. You can check out their products at Red Ridge Farms.
A few salt facts (some information below gleaned from “Everyday Food”):
Iodized Salt – A superfine texture makes this seasoning salt very dense, so a little goes a long way. If you substitute it for kosher salt, use half the amount. To watch a short video on the controversy of iodized salt versus non-iodized salt check this out: Salt video.
Kosher Salt – A staple in many recipes because of its large grain size that makes it easy to pinch and sprinkle. Rather than cubic crystals, kosher salt has a flat plate-like shape and may also have a hollow pyramidal shape. Due to its grain size, the salt can also be used as an abrasive cleaner for cookware such as cast iron skillets.
Flaky Sea Salt – This salt is used more as a finishing salt – it has a bite and piquant, briny flavor many chef’s favor. It is so versatile, use it on steak, fish, or even on sweets like ice cream or caramels. A short article on its uses at Wikihow.
Himalayan Salt – A peachy colored salt that gets its color from its mineral content. The flavor is distinctly sweet. It’s best served alongside meat or fish or dusted lightly on hot chocolate, or sliced fruits such a melon. Did you know it doesn’t really come from the Himalayas? It is harvested in Punjab Pakistan. More info.
Black Hawaiian Salt – This salt is created by blending Hawaiian sea salt with charcoal. That doesn’t sound too appetizing but it has an earthy mineral taste that has a delicious finish on seafood. More interesting facts about Hawaiian sea salts, click here.
Basically, salt is divided into two groups – the seasoning type that one uses in recipes while creating a dish, and finishing salts that add flavor and crunch just before serving. Enjoy whichever salts you like and try a few new ones!