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Salt in food

What is It?

Is Salt in food (Namak) - a spice or an additive? Well to be fair it's actually used as both. It's not particularly exotic, it is completely inorganic comprising, in the common table variety, just a single chemical - Sodium Chloride. In that sense it is not really a spice, nonetheless it is something you cook with and add to food to change its taste, so I guess in some sense it can be thought of as one.

Since salt in food is used to preserve it then it is also used as an additive although it's not an E number in its own right.

History

Historically, it can be said to be a vital factor in the foundation of civilization. Its preservative properties removed the dependency on seasonal food; with it, meat could be preserved for many months. It therefore became a valuable commodity (the word salary derives from the fact that Roman centurions were often paid in salt).

Cooking

I don't generally use very much salt in food - good ingredients will speak for themselves and usually contain enough naturally anyway. Certainly in the context of curries, with so much else going on, it is often redundant. However there are occasions, some simple dishes like roti where just a little will give something to an otherwise bland dish. (Strangely just the night before I wrote this, I cooked a lovely creamy fish dish (Meen Molee). I omitted the salt, which the original recipe called for, and then found it was a little bland) So the bottom line is most dishes don't need it, don't be worried about adding a bit to the ones that do.

Nutrition

It is, of course, high in Sodium. Low sodium brands contains a mixture of Sodium and Potassium Chlorides. There are traces of other minerals in sea and rock salts. And that's about it; no fat, no protein, no vitamins

In the past few years we have been subjected to much media salt-rage and general concern about the amount of salt in food. This is with some justification since many tinned products do contain alarming quantities of the stuff (usually to mask the mediocre quality of the main ingredients). This has led some people to become mildly paranoid and claim never to use it.

To put this in perspective, it is worth pointing out that, other than water, it is the most abundant and most important chemical in the human body. Amongst many other functions, it drives the nervous system and is vital for generating electrical energy in the body.

The fact that it is one of the primary taste senses (along with sweet, bitter, sour and the recently added umami or savoury) suggests an evolutionary adaption to acquiring it in our diet.

As with everything it is the balance that is important. It can be poisonous in excess, but lack of it can also kill you.





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