Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Salt this

A few weeks ago a guy stopped by the kitchen while I was making sausage to ask me if there was any salt in one of the dishes I prepared. I told him that, yes, I used a type of sea salt that was pure sodium chloride and occasionally, Kosher salt. The sea salt I used was the same stuff that was used for making brine for cheese. It contained nothing other that sodium chloride.
Ironically, the Kosher salt, which by my limited understanding of the Kosher laws is supposed to be pure and unadulterated, contains an anticaking agent to keep it from clumping up when it becomes humid. I wasn’t sure which one I used, but either way I was very sure that both salts were mostly pure sodium chloride and had no iodine or any other adulterants.

“Oh,” he said “ I can only sea salt. I’m allergic to regular salt .”

I then explained that regular salt or table salt is sea salt that has been mined from areas formerly covered by saltwater. When the sea water evaporated, the salt -and everything else in the water- precipitated, crystallized and formed what are called evaporite deposits. After the salt is mined, the impurities are removed and what’s left is pure sodium chloride. Then I said that since one can only be truly allergic to proteins and that, unlike many of the salts that are made by people who evaporate sea water in cave or tidal flats, there are no proteins in table salt, it is pure sodium chloride, so he should feel safe.

By now the man's eyes were glazed over as he said “But sea salt is more natural than sodium chloride, right? I mean, sodium chloride is a chemical, isn’t it?”

Obviously, there was nothing more I could or should say other than Yup, I reckin, or what I actually said which was "Yes."

Afterwards, when he had gone, and I was alone with my sausage, I realized that while he may have been more allergic to one conception of salt than salt itself, he was not at all unusual in one key measure: he was suspicious of ingredients that are described by their chemical names.

I think that a lot of people assume that if an ingredient is described by it’s chemical name that it must be man made and therefore dangerous to consume. So, for many folks sea salt is good because it comes from the sea, but sodium chloride or table salt is bad because they think it is produced by pinheads in lab coats working side-by-side with dweebs who are cooking up dioxin.

There are some larger points to be made here and some big conclusions to be drawn. If you're up for it, do it. Me, I'm going to cook dinner.


Ryan Adams said...

You should have told him that water was actually dihydrogen monoxide. That might have sent him into shock.

Joseph Bayot said...

...or how baking soda is sodium bicarbonate.

The dihydrogen monoxide website is hliarious

Nice post.

Cooking (or any activity for that matter) is science at work. Whether one obsesses over physics and chemistry, or is content with simply cooking without knowing the science behind it, cooking will always be science.

The only thing that may change is the pleasure you derive from cooking once you realize this fact, for better or for worse. Let's hope Mr. NaCl opens up a book and tries to learn something, because this anecdote is pretty ridiculous.

Tags said...

Good thing you didn't spin the poor guy's head with the news that sea salt has a lot more chemicals than pure sodium chloride.

Trent said...

Wow boB, that was actually funny. Maybe I am wearing off on you....

Although that silly little man couldn't articulate his issues, most of our customers prefer a natural, unrefined sea salt for the additional mineral properties it allegedly brings along for the ride.

Really witty writing. I'm glad to see the positive change that raw milk and the "X-factor" are doing for you!

Kevin said...

The world is filled with idiots.

Jennie/Tikka said...

I know somebody like this. Though he does have some genuine allergies to certain fruits, the rest of his allergies are purely ideological. When he doesn't know he's eating something he's "allergic" to, he miraculously has no symptoms.

Of course, as soon as you tell him, he begins to feel his throat get itchy, etc.

JB said...

Not much to say other than great post.

Gary Allen said...

To a large extent, our pleasure in eating "natural" foods is they contain more complex collection of chemicals than "synthetic" foods.

For example, artificial vanilla contains only vanillin and ethyl alcohol. Vanillin, while present in vanilla pods, is easily (and cheaply) synthesized.

True vanilla extract contains vanillin and ethyl alcohol and about 130 other "chemicals" that make for a much richer flavor experience.

Of course Mr. NaCl (and those like him) don't want to hear about it. They won't eat any foods with names in a foreign language -- and the language of science is totally foreign to them.