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Jan 10, 2010 08:57 PM

Curb Salt Use - Yay or nay?

New York Seeks National Effort to Curb Salt Use

A broad new health initiative sets a goal of reducing the salt in packaged and restaurant food by 25 percent over the next five years.

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  1. BIG yay/yea.

    as far as i can see, there's no downside. not only is it beneficial to health, people might actually start to learn what their food should/can taste like without all that salt to mask it.

    23 Replies
    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

      While I agree that some restaurants (fast food/chain) do often use too much salt, and of course it almost goes without saying, packaged, processed food contain an excess of salt - salt doesn't mask the taste of food - it enhances it.

      In the hands of a good cook, salt is the the "secret weapon". Using the right amount of salt improves the flavor of food better than anything else. The ability to use exactly the right amount of salt to enhance the flavors is one of the talents that distinguishes a chef like Thomas Keller or Eric Ripert from others. Yes, they obviously have other skills that separate them from the pack but it's definitely a skill that make the food so delicious!

      While it's not the skill you usually think of when eating at a fine restaurant - it's actually that very thing - that the diner never thinks about the salt in the dish. The diner thinks that the food is so delicious, "that lamb jus was so rich and flavorful" which is the result of the chef using exactly the right amount of salt. You can roast as many bones as you want and add as many herbs and spices as you can think of but not achieve a sauce as good as one with the right amount of salt.

      I don't go to Per Se and think, "this beef is seasoned perfectly". I taste the beef and think "This beef cheek is has such a wonderful, beefy flavor". And I don't go to TGIF and think "this steak has such great flavor", I think "this steak is too salty/not salty enough". Inaccurately seasoned food make you think about the seasoning. Perfectly season food makes you think about the food.

      Reducing salt is an admirable goal for processed foods and chain restaurants. Please don't try to tell Eric Ripert how much salt to use and ruin my dinner.

      1. re: chefhound

        As the kids say, THIS. You know what'll happen if the chains start taking out salt? Their customers will put it right back in with table salt, the worst kind of salt. I used to be a saltaholic but I switched to sea salt about a year ago and found that I used a lot less. I even have the fancy pink Himalayan salt. :D Table salt tastes like soap to me now.

        1. re: MandalayVA

          "Their customers will put it right back in with table salt, the worst kind of salt."

          Unless your sea salt comes from another planet, salt is salt.

          1. re: ferret

            Table salt is refined and contains additives, sea salt doesn't. Trust me, you can taste the difference between them.

            1. re: MandalayVA

              Table salt is salt. It's not "refined" in the sense that sugar is, it's cleaned of impurities and then packaged with an anti-caking agent (and sometimes iodine -- when iodine is added they may also add a smidgen of sugar to keep the salt from being discolored). Technically all salt is "sea salt" because it's all derived from the sea (some more recently than others). But there's no valid argument to be made that table salt is "the worst kind of salt", it's chemically identical to all sea salts -- even Himalayan salt. The current schtick is to treat salt like fine cheese or varietal wine when what you're really ingesting is mineral impurities that you would, in most cases, never consider ingesting on their own.

              1. re: ferret

                What MandalayVA meant (I think) is that when using iodized/standard table salt to a dish you use more, not because its not salty, but the SIZE.

                The crystals are tiny and dissolve easily. Kosher or flaked sea salt is big and crunchy and has a lot more mouth appeal with less total amount added.

                I think that's the gist.... :-)

                1. re: tenacity

                  There's some truth to that. I use coarse sea salt which is generally a larger crystal than table salt. But again, table salt, particularly iodized, tastes completely different (and now gross) to me.

          2. re: MandalayVA

            Salt is Salt for the most past. Sea Salt is not more healthy than Kosher Salt for example.

            1. re: hudsonvalleyfoodblog

              All I know is that in my opinion, properly salting food is essential to having it taste good and I personally can taste the difference between using sea salt v. table salt when I cook, and I like the taste of sea salt much better...

              1. re: StheJ

                I think it would be hard to tell the difference in a blind taste test. I use all kinds of salt as well but think the difference might be more in our heads then on our taste buds. I have never been involved in a blind taste test but it would be interesting to see if we would tell the difference. Based on Jeffrey Steingarten's test there is no difference.

                Also let me clarify, I mean the difference between sea salt and kosher salt. Table salt does taste different because it often iodized.

                1. re: hudsonvalleyfoodblog

                  Appreciate your position and sorry you can't taste the difference between sea salt and kosher salt, but as per my post above, I can, in fact, taste the difference. I guess I've been doing blind taste tests for all of these years that I've been cooking...

                  1. re: StheJ

                    Ok, if you say so. So if you are eating out you can tell if they used kosher or sea salt on your roast chicken or in your soup? That is an amazing pallet.

                    1. re: hudsonvalleyfoodblog

                      It's easy to tell if iodized salt has been used in a soup or stew. There's a bite to it, at the back of the mouth. Also, it seems to gain potency in a dish when it's refrigerate overnight.

                      Some sea salts or specialty salts has greater complexity in their flavor -- they're citrus-y, brighter, a bit rounder in flavor, than regular salt. They're good finishing salts, but I couldn't tell if they were used in a soup or stew. (But I could detect the presence of iodized salt.) Nor should they be used in a soup or stew -- that's a waste of a gourmet ingredient. But on top of fresh vegetables, eggs, a chocolate dessert, with bread and unsalted butter -- wonderful. A huge difference.

                      Moreoever, sea salt and kosher salt are usually ground more coarsely than regular salt or iodized salt, so a teaspoon of sea salt or kosher salt is actually
                      less salt, less sodium, than a teaspoon of regular salt.

                      The sodium to look out for is hidden sodium in all its forms in canned goods, packaged goods, fast food. Sodium is loaded into these products to boost the flavor of inferior ingredients. Sodium operates in concert with fat and sugar in processed foods to tweak the brain's reward circuitry.

                      The salt you add while cooking fresh ingredients and while at the table is perfectly fine. It makes food taste better. No problem whatsoever with that unless your doctor says otherwise.

                      I have a rock of pink Bolivian salt -- it looks like a big chunk of rose quartz.
                      I actually grate it on top of foods, or onto a special serving dish. It's wonderful.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        I'm not talking about iodized table salt. I'm talking about the difference between sea salt and kosher salt. I think if I made 5 pasta dishes with sauce, one version with sea salt in the water and another with kosher that anyone would have a hard time identifying each salt in the dish. Like you said, it would be a waste. But some people here have insisted they can tell.

                        If you just taste the salt directly then yes I'd expect to tell the difference. But when used in cooking I think its nearly impossible. I've read a lot on the topic and haven't seen much evidence to suggest otherwise.

                        In terms of an amount of salt used I'd base it on weight, not by volume. So that would neutralize the size of the grains. A gram of kosher salt is the same amount of sodium as a gram of sea salt.

                        I totally agree with you about it on fresh igredients. That is when I use specialty salts the most.

            2. re: MandalayVA

              I still crave salt, even though most of my salt intake is sea salt. The minerals that Ground salt has in it, might have been leached out over time. Sea Salt is still filled with minerals found in the ocean water, the amounts are very small, and varies from salt source to salt source.

              Like I mentioned else where in this thread, I don't always crave salt, it is not something that I pour on foods.

              A Chef knows that you don't salt some things till the last of the cooking process. It is not salted then cooked, that will make things taste salty after cooking. Let the flavors blend first, then add salt later.

              What I don't want happening is them changing the flavor of the foods that I do buy at the grocery store. If they lower the content a bit at a time they can train your taste buds to not notice it so much and reduce the levels.


            3. re: chefhound

              only to a point. i've been to countless restaurants where the food was so salty that the only thing i could taste was salt. that's not an "enhancement," it's a mask.

              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                Those restaurants are most likely the chain restaurants where the cooks don't care about what they're cooking, it's just a job. That is the point of my post - mediocre chains and fast food joints should reduce their salt usage because they do use too much. When all you can taste is salt, that is because they don't know what they're doing.

                I'm saying that government should not try to regulate everyone, issuing guidelines and edicts across the board because only the crappy places need help. Good cooks know how much to use.

                1. re: chefhound

                  "Those restaurants are most likely the chain restaurants where the cooks don't care about what they're cooking, it's just a job."
                  actually, it's been my experience at several at high-end restaurants in NY, NJ and LA. i don't eat fast food, and i only patronize chain restaurants when someone else makes the decision and i don't have a choice.

                  we could go around on this for days. everyone's entitled to an opinion.

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    I certainly respect your right to your opinion. I also only patronize chain restaurants when I don't have a choice. Except for one time, I have never had poorly seasoned food at a fine dining establishment or a local favorite.

                    I find that in restaurants where the chefs are passionate about food, oversalting rarely happens. It's only in the places where the cooks are indifferent and the food just a means to an end, that oversalting occurs because of lack of skill.

              2. re: chefhound

                I fully agree with chefhound. Salt's a two-edged sword.

                I agree that some manufacturers of processed foods may be over-doing it, also.

                There'd be fewer salt-related health problems if some of those same people would hydrate properly -- drink enough water! My friend the nurse sees people with all sorts of ailments who'd get better if they drank enough water.

                1. re: chefhound

                  You are so right. Salt, used in the perfect amount, is absolutely key to make food taste right. No herbs & spices can make up for the lack or overuse of salt.

                2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  Quality restaurants know how to properly use salt. Places like Mcdonald's need to do more then just adjust their sodium levels. I'm all for improving the quality of food but I don't like the sound of a blanket rule that would be applied to ALL food. I understand right now that its not mandatory but eventually they will want it to be. Salt is not evil is used correctly. No need to create a law for its use.

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    I've got very low blood pressure, and I love salt. Why do I have suffer?

                  2. I sure don't want the government to tell restaurants or anyone else how to season their food.

                    1. NAY! This is a perfect example of government overstepping its bounds. What is next? Maybe they'll outlaw butter? Mandate that the only milk that can be sold is skim? And once they get done taking away all the things that make food taste good, where will they turn? Maybe they will start telling you what books you can and can't read? What you can and can't say?

                      Sound paranoid to you? It's happened before in the world, trust me. It almost always happens when people allow their governments to do their thinking for them.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: CorneliusSneedley

                        Sounds pretty paranoid to me. Tea, anyone? '-D

                        1. re: CorneliusSneedley

                          I dont have a problem with the government controlling the amount of salt that restaurants and packaged food producers try to feed into me, as long as the salt shaker is still on my table.

                        2. I trust a chef to season my food. Is Mayor Mike a chef?

                          1. Personally, I like a lot of salt in my food. Everybody does things that are unhealthy for them and makes a choice to do it. Then you get the do-gooders/government interventionists/"Pleasure Police," as radio personality Cigar Dave refers to them, wanting to prohibit you from doing something "for your own good."

                            The Pleasure Police's latest argument is that we all pay for healthcare. Therefore, the government should be able to step in and regulate the amount of salt in our food. Don't you see where this slippery slope is leading? What is to stop the Pleasure Police from prohibiting you (probably by taxing you at onerous rates) from eating high fat food or drinking alcoholic beverages? There is already a bill pending in Congress to tax the heck out of soft drinks because they contain too much sugar. Chicago banned foie gras, although I understand the City Council has now repealed that stupid law.

                            Where does it end?