What You May Not Know about Salt

There are three basic types of salt most of us can buy easily – standard table salt, sea salt, and kosher salt.

Standard table salt is refined, industrial grade sodium chloride (Na Cl).

It is a by-product of industries which require chemically pure sodium chloride for the manufacture of explosives, chlorine gas, baking soda, fertilizers, and plastics. As such, it is cheap.  Most contain anti-caking agents, and some include iodine.

Sea salt is unrefined. It is harvested from the ocean, or more commonly, mined from ancient sea beds, of which there are hundreds.

Unrefined salts contain a broad spectrum of trace elements, often in the same balance as are found in human blood. These include magnesium and potassium, necessary for health and which help the body metabolize the sodium better. Indeed, potassium and magnesium work synergistically with sodium to regulate water balance and nerve and muscle impulses.

Kosher Salt is a coarse-grained salt with no additives, used mainly to draw out the blood from meat to make it kosher, as well as other uses.  It can be refined or unrefined.

A Bit of History

            Salt has been in general use long before the beginning of recorded history, dating back to around 2700 B.C.  It has been recorded as being used in some ancient civilizations. Salt was hard to mine and where it was scarce, it became as valuable as gold. It was actually minted into coins to serve as basic currency at one time. Salt was heavily taxed to help finance empires throughout Europe and Asia, but also inspired wars, a lively black market, smuggling rings, riots, and even revolutions. Salt’s full and fascinating history is told well here:


            The story of table salt began with Morton’s Salt in1848. The Gold Rush created a demand for salt for adventure-seekers moving west. However, it had a clumping problem, which not solved until 1911 with the addition of magnesium carbonate, and anti-caking agent.  With a catchy slogan, “When It rains, it pours,” sales took off.

Words to the Wise

The more sodium you eat, the more potassium and magnesium you need to maintain balance. Few of us get enough of these elements in our diets, yet we consume high amounts of sodium in table salt. Medical discussions around salt refer to what most people eat: table salt, most of which is from processed foods.

For thousands of years, people have consumed unrefined salt and thrived on the balance of the 68 – 90 minerals contained therein.  It only takes a few sprinkles a day to meet our need for all those essential minerals.

The labels on salt packaging aren’t always clear. If you look at the ingredients and the only thing on it is sodium chloride, you know that your so-called ‘healthy’ natural salt is just another refined table salt.

Unrefined salt is generally not the pure white color that most of us are used to; it tends to be off-white, or pink – like the rose-colored crystals of Himalayan rock salt, for instance – or grey as in Atlantic or Celtic salt. The colors hint at the minerals within. Subtle differences in taste are the stuff of famous chefs.

The best health choice is unrefined salt. In choosing unrefined salts, you may also be supporting smaller businesses and social enterprises, which make a choice not only healthy but also ethical, especially if you choose locally sourced salts over those that are produced far away.

Personally, I use Real Salt that is mined in Utah and is just a few cents more than refined table salt.



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