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Salt in Restaurant Food

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Just saw a news item that was mind-boggling: I've always assumed that most restaurants over-salt their food to make up for sub-par ingredients. What I never suspected that there were menu offerings such as Red Lobster's Admiral's Feast that have 3 1/2 teaspoons of salt PER SERVING. I don't understand how there could be so much salt in a dish that doesn't taste over-whelmingly salty.

When I cook, I salt as I go. I don't think I ever use more than a teaspoon of (kosher) salt for a dish that serves 8. Certainly, if I used 3 1/2 teaspoons, the food would be unpalatable. What gives?

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  1. This doesn't surprise me. Whenever I go to a place like Red Lobster I tend to find the food way saltier than it would be if I made it at home. But 3 times your daily salt requirement in one meal is crazy and totally unnecessary.

    WON
    http://whatsonmyplate.wordpress..com

    1. is that 3 1/2 tsp of sodium? or added salt?
      it may be that they are listing the Total Sodium content.

      1. If you are ever in the mood to watch "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef" with Anne Burrell on Food Network, she throws handfuls of salt at different stages of cooking. She even tastes her pasta water to see if it is "salty enough". Until this, I always assumed that the real reataurant secret was butter, but apparenty it is also salt.

        Not surprising if you ever calculate how much sodium is in pre-cooked frozen dinners. Scary.

        18 Replies
        1. re: RGC1982

          Salty water for cooking the pasta is the norm. There is no other way to make the pasta taste good.

          1. re: KTinNYC

            Sauce makes the pasta "taste good". Salting the water is really just adding extra sodium which is not needed. I highly doubt if anyone can taste the difference between pasta cooked in salt water and pasta cooked in plain water after they've both been topped with marinara. Even if you could taste the difference, the enhanced flavor is not worth the extra sodium.

            1. re: stricken

              Haha, are you eating pasta or are you eating sauce? In Italy, sauce is just an accompaniment not the star.

              1. re: stricken

                Oh it most certainly is. Pasta that is cooked in unsalted water tastes so flat, even with sauce. I know, because sometimes in a rush I've forgotten to salt the cooking water, and lamented it upon tasting.

                Sodium is not the enemy.

                Marcella Hazan says to add 1.5 tablespoons of salt for 4 quarts of water for 1 pound of dry pasta. Presumably, that's table salt, so it would be 3 tablespoons of Diamond Crystal kosher salt if you used that. That's roughly 30 grams (30K milligrams) or 1 ounce. Most of which would stay in the water - pasta would absorb a fraction of that, it would seem, but enough where its absence is noticeable (as is so true of salt in sooooo many things). Dry pasta generally absorbs its weight in water, doubling in weight in cooking. So a pound of pasta absorbs a pound of water, which is about a pint of water (or 1/8 of the volume of the water in the pot). That would mean on average about 470 milligrams of salt (which is 235 milligrams of sodium, since salt is only 50% sodium) per 4 ounces of cooked (2 ounces dry) pasta.

                1. re: Karl S

                  piling on to agree 100%. every professional cook will salt pasta water, it is essential not only for the taste of the finished product but the texture as well. don't get me started on salt being essential in salad dressings, soup stock, water used to blanch vegetables, etc.

                  i agree that sodium is not the enemy, and salt has been prized and warred over for the whole of human existence. the word "sale" and "salary" are from the same root word as "salt" because salt was so valuable that it was currency in many societies, and wages of soldiers and government officials was paid in salt. at the risk of sounding like a wingnut, salt is *still* sacred in many societies, food is made holy by salting it, salt is used as an offering to the gods and it should still be revered. if folks think there's too much salt in a cookie that has 1 tsp/5 dozen, for example, those folks probably aren't getting enough physical activity.

                  please don't compare carefully seasoned restaurant food with overprocessed "frozen dinners" or dreck like that.

                  leaving food improperly seasoned is incompetent, uncaring and disrespectful to whomever consumes the food. salt is the most important ingredient in 95%+ of recipes, because if the salt was omitted, the recipes would suck.

                  1. re: soupkitten

                    I agree with everybody who said salt the pasta water. (I use ample salt daily - it is important for people with low blood pressure, not everyone is the same in terms of sodium tolerance.)

                    That said, not everything needs tons of salt. I love brined green olives. I'll take popcorn with a LOT of fine salt on it. And maybe some fresh cracked pepper. For sushi and many other things, I rarely if ever dip into the soy sauce. The dumpling sauce - I'm going to finish that, though.

                  2. re: Karl S

                    To that you add the sodium in the sauce, to which you add the sodium in the water that goes back into the sauce to which you add the sodium that's in the cheese -- before long you have a single serving of pasta with over 1,000mg. of sodium. I lived in Italy for a long time. Some folks salt the water. Some don't. I've been served great pasta both ways.

                    1. re: charitytd

                      De gustibus. For me, salting the water properly increases the sodium content of the meal only marginally, but the flavor factor more noticeably, and I am far far from alone in that regard.

                  3. re: stricken

                    I can taste the difference.

                    1. re: stricken

                      You may not find a lot of posters who agree with either conclusion.

                      jfood can absolutely taste the salt in the pasta and the enhanced that jfood experiences is absolutely worth the extra sodium, what little it may have.

                      1. re: jfood

                        Yup. There have been threads on this and almost all 'Hounds (and, as has been noted, all professional cooks) salt the pasta water. Minimal extra sodium, but essential for taste.

                      2. re: stricken

                        I can absolutely tell the difference. Salt is essential for pasta.

                        1. re: stricken

                          Those of us who remember our high school chemistry will recall that adding salt to water increases its boiling point. I've never tested this with pasta, but perhaps it's like the difference between roasting at 400 degrees vs. 350. The former is going to give you a much crisper exterior (and perhaps burnt!) than the latter.

                          1. re: FrankDrakman

                            It's de minimis. Even when I make salt potatoes (where you create a dense brine), it raises it only a couple of degrees (but that's enough for the water in the pototoes to steam out with a vigorous hissing action).

                            1. re: Karl S

                              What are "salt potatoes?"

                              1. re: pikawicca

                                A central NY thing: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/22/tra...

                                1. re: BobB

                                  Thanks.

                                  Also: they are delicious. By far the best way to have a boiled potato. Too many so few restaurants are aware of this wonderful thing (salt potatoes also keep better than other boiled potatoes).

                                  They arose because central NY state has huge salt mines, and potatoes grow well there. There are salt potatoes in other cuisines (IIRC, the Canary Islands, for example), but it's a staple dish in that region, and for good reason.

                        2. re: KTinNYC

                          Yes but Anne overdoes it. I love her but the recipes of hers that I've made have in fact been too salty for my taste _ and I like salt.

                      3. Shellfish is naturally high in sodium. Processed foods are really high in sodium which is what a lot of chain restaurants use, Red Lobster is a combination of both so it doesn't surprise me that the sodium is so high.

                        1. You think RL is bad? Go check out a Chilis menu!!!!!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: KiltedCook

                            Chilis, applebees, tgi Fridays, all of those McFuntime cookie cutter restaurants cater to the "canned food and frozen package in a microwave" crowd. You can't blame them, it's what the people want. the last time I went to an applebees, I ordered a simple burger. the salt crystals were visible on top of the patty. I scraped them off like sludge with my knife. Yes, that was the LAST time I was there.

                          2. Pikawicca, you wrote, "I don't understand how there could be so much salt in a dish that doesn't taste over-whelmingly salty." Me either. I am skeptical of the information provided. Isn't the outfit that suddenly made these headlines the same one that alarmed us (and made equally big headlines) about the hyper fat content of Chinese food a few years ago (which also seemed weird to me) and Mexican food about a year before that?

                            Could the desire for publicity to build their organization and for contributions be playing a role here? I'm just saying that these people come out of nowhere with a nice, credible sounding scientific name for their organization and incrdeible accusations and everyone
                            believes them. The restaurants like Red Lobster are faced with a dilemma: Do we dispute these findings, thereby giving the Center for Science in the Public Interest (or whatever) MORE publicity, thereby damaging our brand further, or do we shut up and let this all blow over, hoping that we weren't hurt too much? And even if we do dispute the findings, is anyone going to believe us, since we have a vested interest here?

                            Another question: how much salt is there inherently in seafood? If you take 12 ounces of raw grouper and measure the salt content, is it pretty high? After all, the critter LIVES in brine!

                            If a reputable organization like Consumer Reports tells me that there is that much salt in Red Lobster, etc.'s food, I'll believe it, but until then, I'll take it with a grain of salt.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: gfr1111

                              The study was conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

                              http://www.cspinet.org/new/200905111....

                              1. re: gfr1111

                                I'm sure that there is some truth to this, but I haven't trusted CSPI since they did their take out food scare. Their methodology was to call an Italian restaurant, ask how many pieces of garlic bread were in a "serving" and base all their calculations on a serving being 8 pieces. That's how many were in the take-out order, not what a normal human would eat at one time. They did the same thing with Chinese take-out and calculating a serving of Kung Pao chicken based on a quart container. I think it was misleading and done to get the most bang for their buck publicity wise. I don't think there are any tax dollars involved here though.

                                1. re: PrincessBakesALot

                                  CSPI is second only to PETA in their philosophy of garnering publicity for their causes by putting out exaggerated, headline-making claims. I consider everything they say to be examples of the old saying that there are "lies, damn lies and statistics."

                                  Let's just take pasta. Suppose you put 1.5 tablespoons of salt per pound of pasta in the cooking water. How much of that actually ends up in the pasta and how much is drained away in the water? Does anyone really know? Saying that the recipe for making one pound of pasta contains 1.5 tablespoons of salt doesn't say anything about the sodium content of the product as served.

                                  As other people have pointed out, "salt" and "sodium" are not the same thing. There are other sources of sodium in foods beyond salt -- some of them natural and some of them added.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    I believe I've given a gram-based analysis of this issue in a couple of threads, most recently:

                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/512047

                                    1. re: Karl S

                                      I don't see it on that thread -- maybe you could permalink the exact post?

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        Ah, wrong thread:

                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/387007

                                        And it was YOU who corrected my calculations! Two years ago, but I've copied this and put it into other threads on this recurring point.

                                        1. re: Karl S

                                          So I did! :-)

                                          Here's the permalink to the exact post(s): http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3870...

                                          Despite me correcting your calculations, we've always been on the same side of this discussion.

                              2. "FoodFuser" started a post on this same topic. Since we can't combine threads, we're copying the post here:

                                " Resto's and salt... even worse than I figured.

                                I'm generally unable to keep daily salt intake below 2000 milligrams, but darn it at least I sorta try.

                                ABC's news report was telling. Salt content way past guidelines.

                                http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Breakfas...
                                "

                                1. A couple of thoughts:

                                  - Every time I've been to a cooking class, the issue of salt comes up. It seems home cooks, as a rule, under season in comparison with professionals. They tend to season at the start of the pot and continue to layer with each addition or technique. Someone, it all blends in well in the final product (although an eater might be a tad thirsty for the rest of the day). Most home recipes do not reflect a real kitchens use.

                                  - For some restaurants, this layering is taken to the step beyond since they are relying on the salt to provide the flavor not present in the more inexpensive ingredients.

                                  - And some restaurants cater to a clientele that wants very salty (and greasy) food.

                                  - The size of chain restaurant entrees are enormous so the overall amount of salt is also larger.

                                  The only way to know how much salt is in a meal is to cook it youself.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: alwayscooking

                                    I was watching one of the FN cooking shows when the chef actually said "people always complain that the food they cook at home does not taste like the food in restaurants---well that's because you're not adding enough salt." With that, he tossed in another generous sprinkling. Scared me.

                                    1. re: h2Bn

                                      What was so scary? Are you a slug ;)? Seriously, unless you have some health condition that precludes you from eating excess salt it is not "unhealthy".

                                      1. re: KTinNYC

                                        Why I gotta be a slug? LOL! As a matter of fact, I DO have a health condition that precludes me (if I am wise) from eating excess salt--and I am not alone in that. Eating anything "excessively" is generally unhealthy. Based on the very existence of this thread, and its 70+ replies, one obviously need not be a garden pest to be concerned about excess salt in food.

                                        Like most here, I love delicious, well-prepared and adventurous food. I'm sure part of the reason I developed skills as an excellent home "chef" is to experience what I enjoy without having to worry as much.

                                        When I do eat out, it is special--to follow up a good rec, sample a novel cuisine, celebrate with good people. When that FN chef made that comment, I doubt he was speaking of eateries like RL and Chili's, but rather of finer restaurants where his peers are likely in the kitchen. So yeah, I was not happy hearing him state so matter-of-factly that heavy-handed salting is the norm, even if I did already know it.

                                        1. re: h2Bn

                                          It's certainly understandable that people who have a specific health condition need to adjust their intake appropriately - down or up.

                                          "Excessively" is very largely a matter of opinion, personal health needs and personal preference, with a little incomplete science thrown in.

                                  2. The Red Lobster website's nutritional facts says that the Admiral's Feast has 1506 calories and 4662 grams of sodium. The study added lobster topped mashed potatoes, ceasar dressing on the salad, and cheddar biscuits. Individually, those dishes might not come off as oversalted, but if your a glutton enough to eat the whole plate, plus sides, plus salad, you deserve the 7500 grams of sodium and all the fat of the fried feast.

                                    Studies like this are just a justification of spending tax payers money and everyone becomes so outraged at sodium and/or fat in food.

                                    The real issue is that American's need to learn to control themselves when it comes to the instant gratification of cheap food.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: janetms383

                                      Wait a minute. There are 453 grams in a pound. Forgetting about salt for a minute, the food in the Admiral's Feast itself could not possibly weigh (roughly) 10 pounds (i.e., 4662 divided by 453 equals 10.29 pounds).

                                      1. re: gfr1111

                                        I think they meant mg not g

                                        1. re: scubadoo97

                                          Okay, so divide 4662 miligrams by 1000 ("mili" meaning thousand) to turn the figure into grams and you get 4.6 grams salt. There are roughly 28 grams in an ounce (453 grams in a pound divided by 16 ounces equals 28 grams, roughly). To make the math easy, call it 5 grams of salt in the meal. That's roughly .2 (two tenths) of an ounce of salt. Now, that figure seems way too low to me. The math doesn't add up.

                                          On the other hand, I will defer to those with more math skills than I have. (To paraphrase Bones from Star Trek, "I'm a lawyer, not a mathematician, Jim.")

                                          Anyway, the Center for Science in the Public Interest seems alarmist to me.

                                          1. re: gfr1111

                                            Grab a scale and measure out 5 grams of salt. You'll see exactly how much that is. Besides, salt isn't all sodium... it is also known as sodium chloride for a reason. The atomic weight of chlorine is about 50% higher than sodium... so in a volume of salt only 40% of the mass is sodium... assuming I still remember my science ;)

                                            Strictly speaking (assuming I'm right), around 12 grams of salt will yield you 5 grams of sodium.

                                      2. re: janetms383

                                        I was scrounging websites for nutritional info, especially sodium, a while back when I was on a diuretic and could have been blown over by some of the numbers. As KiltedCook above said, Chilis was one of the worst offenders (don't know why I was looking there—haven't gone and aren't planning of it). Many of their items come in well above the 2000mg daily limit and they have two big boy offenders that top 5000: Buffalo chicken fajitas at 5236 and Buffalo Chicken crisper bites at 5384. And those are stand-alones without sides. Seriously I'm swelling up just thinking about it.

                                        1. re: janetms383

                                          Just a correction to your rant: CSPI is a private organization that is not affiliated with the US government and does not fund their "studies" with taxpayer dollars.

                                          http://www.cspinet.org/about/funding....

                                        2. Salt is a cheap way too intensify the tastes of sweet and umami, so it's no surprise that it's used a lot.

                                          It's also necessary for physiological survival (civilizations were successful or died with/without salt) so, like fats (high in calories) we are drawn to it.

                                          1. I think bad cooks use salt like bad painter use caulking, a lot of it to cover up poor workmanship.

                                            I was at a resturant for mother's day and I could not eat the food because it so so salty.

                                            I love salt. I just wish people would use it more sparingly.

                                            1. I don't eat out often anymore, and haven't used much salt in cooking for over 30 years.
                                              My "scientific" study involves looking down at how swollen my ankles are. ANY restaurant food makes them puff compared to home-cooked, but the worst offenders are, in increasing order of severity: pizza,Thai,Chinese, fast food chains, Japanese, and Indian. Of these, I would say the pizza and Indian taste the least salty.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: greygarious

                                                Very scientific! I personally use the 'does the ring come off' method. It's amazing how salty some food can be without tasty like the ocean.

                                                1. re: alwayscooking

                                                  It's amazing how fast your fingers will swell too!

                                                  1. re: pinkprimp

                                                    I don't visibly swell (I'm pretty big to begin with) but the scale sure knows when I've been eating out or having pizza! It's not uncommon for me to instantly be two pounds heavier in the morning, and not because I ate seven thousand calories for dinner!

                                                    I add very little salt to my own cooking and keep my sodium intake fairly low... so my body knows the difference when I have commercial food. I've been to more than a few restaurants where the food was too salty for me to eat it.

                                                    1. re: Kajikit

                                                      I love salt, but we can definitely tell when we've over-brined: anytime we have takeout pizza, for instance, husband and I both spend the evening guzzling water. Husband worries about salt, so I largely cook without adding any, and salt my plate as needed. also buy unsalted butter, although we don't use a ton of butter. I notice that my hypertensive, heart attack having parents in law refuse to adopt this method, and I've taken to averting my eyes when MOL is dumping the bucket of salt into the potatoes at thanksgiving prep. even I don't need to salt my potatoes at their house. :)

                                                      1. re: occula

                                                        Papas arrugadas, or Canarian wrinkly potatoes, are cooked in rather salty water - at least sea water strength. Then they are dried over heat, leaving a salty crust. These are whole, small potatoes with skin.

                                                        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canarian...

                                                        there's a Central NY equivalent
                                                        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_pot...

                                              2. ...is that even possible? Same with me, I alt as I go too and I don't think I have ever gone above one teaspoon for a day's worth of food...how can it get to that many teaspoons?!

                                                Eww...I do not want to know how processed their food is then, cause your tongue acts as a natural indicator, if something tastes too salty for you that means it's more sodium than you need but in processed food, the sodium gets hidden so you don't taste it...>.>

                                                1. Big chain enterprises test their recipes with tasting panels, I'm certain. We are held hostage by a public that downs mountains of potato chips and think that salt tastes good. I find most chain outlets offerings too salty to eat.

                                                  Thank heaven for salads or I might starve on a road trip.

                                                  1. Salt is a natural flavor enhancer. It's that simple. Professionals will use more salt (and butter) than the home cook, because it's what keeps people coming back and paying for the food.

                                                    18 Replies
                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                      How long do you plan to live? Let's not forget that hypertension has become epidemic and we regularly see people in their 50's with heart failure. Our taste for salt quickly re-adjusts to a lower threshold with consistent restraint in it's use. Ask your doctor.

                                                      When dining out I ask that my meal be prepared without added salt and then, if required, adjust the seasoning myself. Sometimes that throws the staff into a tizzy, but If more guests did this maybe more customer-focused restaurants would do it without a fuss. Of course the boil-in-a-bag-chains couldn't do that. Some more creative places could even offer freshly ground sea salt at the table along with the seemingly mandatory pepper mill. Why do we have customized amounts of pepper and not salt? Distinctive restaurants might even go so far as to pair varieties of salt with menu items; Fleure de Sel with poultry, Sel Gris with seafood, Sel Fumée with rich entrées, Mediterranean or the lovely sea salt from Crete with pastas, etc., it would be so easy.

                                                      1. re: iamafoodie

                                                        Food seasoned after cooking will never taste as good as food seasoned while being prepared. It's as simple as that.

                                                        1. re: KTinNYC

                                                          KT, agreed, but only somewhat as "tasting good" is quite subjective. It's like learning to enjoy music at low, but adequate volume levels rather than at window rattling levels. I have discovered that at reduced salt levels subtle ingredient-specific flavors become more evident. They taste good too and they aren't overwhelmed by just the taste of salt.

                                                        2. re: iamafoodie

                                                          But a guest is more likely to complain that a dish is bland (and send it back) if it is under salted than if it lacks pepper. We are used to adding some pepper, if only to see the 3' long mill in use. We are not used to tweaking the salt level in a dish.

                                                          As a cook, I often add salt bit by bit, tasting and adjusting, aiming for that point where the flavors 'pop'. The diner shouldn't be expected to do that. That's the cook's job.

                                                          Imagine a sauce or rice dish that is under salted. The diner could sprinkle salt on it - but that will only reach the surface. So either he has to salt and stir, or resalt several times during the meal. That will detract from the experience.

                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                            Paulj, not if a customer requests no added salt. How long do you want to keep your customers? I am only asking that restaurants be flexible in accommodating healthy eating practices, not produce uniformly bland food. We have more than enough of those places already.

                                                            In my business I want customers for life and aim to achieve that by helping my people to do everything they can to understand that quality is always what the customer says it is. The big challenge, and real fun, is trying to understand what the customer expects. Happy cooking.

                                                            1. re: iamafoodie

                                                              There is nothing unhealthy about salt unless you have a medical condition. Salt for normal, healthy people is not an issue.

                                                              1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                Yes, it's even a minority of people with high blood pressure who are sodium-sensitive. Doctors frequently tell patients with HBP to avoid salt as a uniform precaution (because it will be rare that someone taking that advice will get too little salt in a typical American diet) but without actually testing to see if their BP is of the sodium-sensitive subtype.

                                                                1. re: Karl S

                                                                  a lot of medical professionals will admit that they consider the low-sodium gimmik a two-fer. they are trying to get their patients to stop eating processed foods and fast foods and start cooking the majority of meals from scratch at home. if they can get their patients to read labels and realize that processed food is loaded with sodium, and cut these unhealthy items out, they often lose weight and their health often improves-- because they significantly improved the quality of their diet, & not necessarily because of the sodium content of that diet.

                                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                                    Yes.

                                                              2. re: iamafoodie

                                                                It will be easier to make low salt versions of some dishes than others.

                                                                A quick order cook could skip the salt when frying someone's eggs - though the salting step may be so automatic that he might forget to not salt. But omitting the salt from the Bernaise sauce on the Eggs Benedict would be harder, if the sauce is made ahead of time. Likewise removing the salt from the soup-of-the-day or the house salad dressing would be hard.

                                                                Something that might be useful to people who need a low salt meal, is a thread that focues on the types of dishes that can be adjusted, and types of restaurants than can readily do that.

                                                                1. re: paulj

                                                                  You salt fried eggs? Seriously? Whenever I make ham or bacon with eggs, I figure there's enough salt in the pork for the entire meal.

                                                                  In restaurants, I figure (even at high end places) the dishes will be heavily salted. That doesn't bother me at all, but I never reach for the salt shaker at any restaurant at any time. It frankly amazes me when I see people adding salt to McD's fries.

                                                                  At home, I'll put salt in recipes when called for, and I certainly like steak spice (which is mostly salt) on my grilled steaks. But I never add salt after cooking - cracked pepper, yes (frequently), but never salt.

                                                                2. re: iamafoodie

                                                                  Salting is one of the most basic yet important skills of a cook. For you to take that away from them, it's akin to someone coming to your workplace telling you how to do your job when they lack the proper training you have. You wouldn't feel too happy about that would you?

                                                                  If you've trained your palette to be anti-salt, more power to you. Just know that restaurants are catering to the average person, they definitely like their salt more than you do.

                                                                  Salting your food is not the enemy, salt hidden in processed food is. If you cut that out, you can salt all you want in your cooking and come nowhere near the stuff that's in processed foods.

                                                                  You also have to take into account the level of salt used w/ different foods. Some food sucks up salt like there's no tomorrow, potatoes for instance. Likewise you barely salt clams because of its natural brineness. Salt according to taste, don't get scared by the visuals of big batches of salt going into pasta water.

                                                              3. re: iamafoodie

                                                                Personally, I think almost all home cooks, including myself, do not use nearly as much
                                                                fat and salt as they do in restaurants because it would seem obscene if you knew how much was being used.

                                                                I'm just commenting that they do it in restaurants for a reason. it puts asses in the seats.

                                                                1. re: Steve

                                                                  though i think you have a point, it's kind of a broad brush you're painting with. many scaled up restaurant dishes actually contain less butter/oil, salt, and spices than you'd use in a home recipe. you'd use the same amount of oil (1 tbsp) to make 3 1/2 gallons of soup as you would to make 6, and then you're really only adding 1/2 tbsp every 5 gallons or so above that. so per serving, no not really "obscene" amounts of fat. . . professional cooks know, when doubling a recipe, to *not* double the salt and spice amts used in the final product, or else the result is overseasoned. in other recipes the fat and salt content is exactly what a home cook would use-- in desserts/baking for example, if you doubled the salt and butter, the recipes wouldn't work.

                                                                  sure, a home cook watching a pro cook will see them throw a pound of butter or a small handful of salt into a pot and think omg, but when you're cooking 70 portions at a time. . . mmm. . . nope, not really obscene, imo.

                                                                  1. re: Steve

                                                                    Fat for sure. Not unusual for a 2-3+ Tbs of butter to go into a pan just before plating

                                                                    1. re: scubadoo97

                                                                      ideally.

                                                                2. re: Steve

                                                                  Interesting... I wasn't aware of this.

                                                                  1. re: EggsNBacon42

                                                                    Oh yes. If you wonder why steaks in a restaurant taste better than yours at home, it's more likely that both are choice-grade but the restaurant adds a glaze of butter or oil to its steaks. And that Chinese and Indian buffet food that looks so moist? Extra oil helps keep it looking that way. Restaurant food is LOADED with fat - that's why it tastes so good. Salt, too.

                                                                3. On the other hand, a dish at a chain restaurant in the US with the word 'feast' in the title probably has a good chance of being a pretty huge plate of food, like 2 or 3 reasonable sized servings. So if that 3-1/2 tsp is for a whole oversized plate but you only eat half of it, 1-3/4 tsp might still sound like a lot but not outrageous.

                                                                  10 Replies
                                                                  1. re: babette feasts

                                                                    Babette, thank you. That's exactly my point. You get to a level of salt intake that 1-3/4 tsp, that's almost a half ounce, doesn't seem outrageous, yet it can be deadly on a continuing basis. Meanwhile we justify it as being a normal behavior. Just read the foregoing posts.

                                                                    Thank you for also bringing up the other great American restaurant outrage, gluttonous portion sizes. Look around you at the size of many Americans. Why have we done this to ourselves? We've become totally out of control; - sadly, just like our government.

                                                                    1. re: iamafoodie

                                                                      "yet it can be deadly on a continuing basis". Not really, again salt is not poison and for most people over consumption is not an issue.

                                                                      "We've become totally out of control; - sadly, just like our government." Speak for yourself. I and most people I know are not out of control and have no health issues associated with food. There is something called personal responsibility.

                                                                      1. re: iamafoodie

                                                                        By what math is less than 2 teaspoons half an ounce? Salt is really light, that is maybe 5 grams, max 1/6 ounce by weight. By volume, 2 TB is one ounce, 2 tsp is a third of that.

                                                                        1. re: babette feasts

                                                                          According to this site (http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/gram_cal...) there are 292 grams of salt per cup, by which standard two teaspoons = approx 4 grams, or 1/7 of an ounce. The site doesn't specify what type of salt, but assuming they're talking about standard table salt, which is about twice as dense as kosher salt, then two teaspoons of kosher salt would be about 1/14 of an ounce.

                                                                          1. re: babette feasts

                                                                            That's my Fuzzy Math.

                                                                            However, the recommended daily salt intake is 1 tsp which is 2.3 gm of sodium. For adults over 50, African-Americans, and people diagnosed with high blood pressure that goes down to 1.5 g per day.

                                                                            1. re: iamafoodie

                                                                              Half-truths, inaccuracies, and fuzzy math don't do anyone any good. I'd really rather see Chowhound as a source of information than conjecture and guesses.

                                                                              Glad I'm under 50, caucasian, and not prone to high blood pressure.

                                                                              1. re: babette feasts

                                                                                I don't fit all these criteria but I still eat salt. Hope I don't drop dead.

                                                                                1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                  If you're worried, consult your doctor. Otherwise, don't sweat it.

                                                                                  My boyfriend in college always bugged me about salting my food and it drove me nuts. Well intentioned but uninformed. AFIK eating salt doesn't cause hypertension any more than eating sugar causes diabetes - which my doctor always assures me it doesn't when I worry to him about it (pastry chef w/ family history of the disease).

                                                                          2. re: iamafoodie

                                                                            Portion sizes are not the problem, it's people's lack of awareness and the "clean plate club." A "portion" can't be gluttonous. It becomes gluttonous when you eat past your own body's satiety - both at that meal and thereafter. If I haven't eaten much in the previous hours/days, I might well even finish the Admiral's Feast. I also might not. The key is that I stop when I am no longer hungry, not when the plate is empty. And if I do finish it, it will probably be a minimum of the next night before I am hungry again and eat again. External cues and constraints when eating are not healthy, and lead to "the size of many Americans" - not the calorie/fat/sodium/ad nauseam content of a single dish or even restaurant dishes as a whole.

                                                                            1. re: evewitch

                                                                              That's also a question of the speed at which one eats. Even if you're paying attention to your body's signals of satiety, these signals lag some amount of time (I believe the rule of thumb is 15 minutes) behind actually being full, so if you're eating slowly you're more like not to overeat.

                                                                        2. I haven't eaten at RL in a long time, and don't think I ever had the Admiral's Feast. But looking at the menu, and the nutrition facts I can make some guesses as to why the sodium levels are high -

                                                                          - this is a 'feast' - a dish that claims to offer a lot of content for the money, quantity over quality
                                                                          - calorie count is up there, 1800
                                                                          - most of the items are breaded. Does the breading taste good. I bet this because it is salty
                                                                          - note under appetizers that their popcorn shrimp is quite high on sodium as well. What flavor do we associate with popcorn? salt?
                                                                          - shell fish comes from salt water. Look at the sodium levels for their king crab legs.

                                                                          Now that chains like this offer nutritional information like this, you can make informed decisions. If it is important to you to limit sodium, you can choose items accordingly. For example, choose the rice pilaf as a side instead of the lobster topped mashed. Or grilled items over breaded. Steak over shellfish, skip the sauce rich pastas, etc.

                                                                          Your neighborhood mom&pop fish-n-chips probably has similar sodium levels in their breading - even though they do not provide a nutritional fact sheet.

                                                                          1. Saltiness is a learned taste. I cooked in restaurants of varying quality when i was younger, then when I got married and bought a house we had no salt in it for 2 years. Trust me, we ate well. Now, years later and in better financial shape we eat out more and use a moderate amount of salt at home. Resto meals almost always taste salty to me.

                                                                            You can't eat the garbage at chain restaurants in America and assume they regard your health as anything but disposable. Salt is used as a preservative, a way to get people to order more drinks (high profit margins) and to mask the inferior quality of the ingredients and lack of skill in the kitchen.

                                                                            Sorry to sound harsh but to me there is no better food than a pepper of cucumber pulled from my garden, an apricot plucked from my tree or a fish pulled from the water. Processed, frozen and quick fried by a minimum wage cook is hardly something I want to put in my body.

                                                                            1. A number of posters have written that restaurants use salt in place of quality ingredients.

                                                                              There's an article in the NYTimes on the Perfect Burger that calls that claim into question.
                                                                              http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/01/din...

                                                                              "All the chefs agree that salt is crucial. Whether you’re using kosher, table or sea salt, you should be pretty liberal with it. Beef can take more salt than you think. Most chefs recommended seasoning the burger just before cooking it."

                                                                              1. There's a reason that New York was going to enforce salt limitations on food. People do it so we'll eat more. i needed to stop eating salt for health reasons and I've dropped about 30 lbs over the last few years. When food is less salted/not salted you don't crave it in the same way. It doesn't mean it's not delicious. It's just that food with little salt doesn't turn off our biological reminders that we're full.

                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                1. re: charitytd

                                                                                  Please show me evidence that New York "was going to enforce salt limitations on food." While you're at it please cite evidence to the statement, "It's just that food with little salt doesn't turn off our biological reminders that we're full."

                                                                                  1. re: charitytd

                                                                                    charitytd, is this what you're referring to?

                                                                                    http://wcbstv.com/politics/bloomberg....

                                                                                    New York was never "going to enforce salt limitations on food." Maybe you're confusing salt with transfats.

                                                                                  2. Something new on the subject:
                                                                                    http://www.foodpolitics.com/2009/07/c...

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                      But how can you make bacon or ham without salt? Any dish featuring a salt-cured meat is going to have a far higher sodium content than one without, and I am sure people with hypertension know to avoid bacon (poor souls). It may again be a question of portion size, as in how many pieces of ham are in that sandwich - I don't know, I haven't been to Denny's since that time my friend from college almost got us kicked out circa 1993 - and I imagine a lot of the foods served there are already processed (ie with added salt) before they arrive at the back door of the restaurant.