Seek out the salt: food columnist Andrew Coppolino shakes it up

Food columnist Andrew Coppolino thinks salt hasn't been getting a fair shake lately. So he's compiled a list of the good things it can do in your kitchen.
Don't be so fast to put away the salt, says food columnist Andrew Coppolino. (Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

This week is World Salt Awareness Week, which is usually a time when we're admonished for how much salt we eat. However, sodium chloride – a crystal that's had a significant influence on our history and culture – is not all bad, if consumed in moderation. In fact, it is vitally important for enhancing food's flavour and texture.

As for the health issues, Canadians on average ingest more than twice the recommended intake of salt, according to Health Canada, and about 75 per cent of that intake comes through eating processed foods. So clean up that part of your diet – canned and jarred foods, even breakfast cereals can be very high in sodium chloride – and you're good to go.

Humans have harvested salt since 6,000 BC. It has driven economies, been a target during invasions and conquests, and had a role in social and economic justice movements. For instance, in March of 1930, Mahatma Gandhi led his 380-kilometre march to the coast to protest British rule, which included strict laws on salt production and sales, and heavy taxes. He and his followers scraped up sea salt from the salt flats and beaches, which lead to mass arrests over the course of a few months, triggering the process that resulted in India's independence in 1947.

Towns with 'wich' were salt producers

A quick bit of etymology: salt's importance can spotted in the names of certain towns and cities. The Anglo-Saxons used the word "wich" to denote areas where there were salt pits and salt production. Just after the Conquest, the Normans destroyed towns with salt-production facilities in an effort to quell rebellions and resistance and to assert their power.

So English towns such as Sandwich, Ipswich, Norwich, West Bromwich and others were all likely sites of ancient salt production. Here in Ontario, though they don't signify salt production, we have the towns of Dunwich (off the 401 toward Chatham near Lake Erie), Fordwich (Huron County) and Norwich (Oxford County). These salty names have been transported from their former salt-producing English counterparts, vestiges of salt's history.

Notably, the salt production we do have in Ontario is thanks to Goderich. A failed attempt to find oil in the 1860s yielded a discovery of a salt nearly 300 metres below the surface, one of the first recorded salt beds in North America at the time and now one of the most productive salt works in the modern world.

From fleur de sel to smoked salt

Over the last several years, the varieties of salts that food lovers have access to have increased significantly, including artisanal and expensive flaky fleur de sel, smoked salts, a wide array salts marketed as "sea salt," Himalayan salt, lavender salt, kosher salt (a prime choice of chefs) and others. Just remember that all salts have relatively the same amount of sodium chloride. 

Now, what to do with all that free-running household salt you have, beyond just flavouring your food? Mixed with a little water, it's a safe and environmentally responsible way for cleaning up baked-on foods in the oven: as the spill cools, add the salt and water paste and let it soak. Salt is also useful for scrubbing down your cutting board, removing stains from your enamel pots by soaking over night, and removing lipstick marks from wine glasses.

Otherwise, use a bit of salt when cutting onions or anchovies and mash them gently into a fine paste with the blade of your knife.

Adding salt to the water can make it easier to peel hard-boiled eggs, and you can test the freshness of those eggs before you boil them by adding two teaspoons of salt to a cup of water and putting in your egg. If it sinks, it's fresh.

That may just be a good home science experiment to run with your kids some Saturday afternoon.

About the Author

Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

Andrew Coppolino is a food columnist for CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. He was formerly restaurant reviewer with The Waterloo Region Record. He also contributes to Culinary Trends and Restaurant Report magazines in the U.S. and is the co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare. A couple of years of cooking as an apprentice chef in a restaurant kitchen helped him decide he wanted to work with food from the other side of the stove.


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