Salt, No salt, and Umeboshi Corn on the Cob
How do you get straight A’s in Culinary School? Salt your dish perfectly. This is easier said than done and is a source of great frustration to culinary students.
In my school days, each time I started a new course, with a new instructor, I paid very close attention to his/her comments on salt. One instructor would complain constantly “not enough salt!” Then the next, “too much salt!” And points were deducted accordingly. And of course, each instructor was correct! If you are presenting a dish, it is up to you to please the palate of the taster. I learned quickly how to salt for each one, and this resulted in higher grades and less frustration. 🙂
Sidenote: The size of cut parsley matters too.
But what if your doctor has prescribed a diet of NO ADDED SALT, or reduced salt. Are you now doomed to tasteless cuisine? Not on this blog! Scroll down the page for more on that.
Not all salts are created equal. How your taste buds and body perceive them vary greatly.
First, let’s break it down by types…
General Types of Salts and Their Common Uses
Iodized Table Salt – Developed in the 1920’s to correct iodine deficiency common at the time.
Kosher Salt – Preferred by most chefs because its course texture makes it easier to pinch and control amounts used. It spreads more evenly than table salt. It also tastes better than the more refined, processed table salt. Kosher salt is added during the cooking process.
Celtic Sea Salt, Pink Himalayan, and other Unrefined Colored Sea Salts – These vary somewhat in taste, determined by the mineral content and other environmental factors of the location from which they are harvested. Black salts may have a smokey flavor; Hawaiian pink salt may have floral notes.
These salts can be used during the cooking process, but are most frequently used as finishing salts. For example, on cooked steak or seafood, over a loaf of bread or on pretzels, or on desserts. The crunchy texture and burst of salinity on a chocolaty dessert can transform it from ordinary to divine! The sweetness is intensified and complexities and layers of flavors are enhanced.
Note: All salt originates from the sea, although the location from which they are harvested may be mines, rivers, or lakes. Location may matter if geographical areas are contaminated, and mineral content may vary by locations as well; but from a nutritional point of view, the primary distinction is really between refined (processed), and unrefined (natural).
Conversion in Recipes
Table salt granules are uniform little squares, where Kosher salt is composed of irregular flakes. Therefore, table salt packs much more densely. So a recipe calling for 1 t. table salt will require 1 ½ – 2 t Kosher salt, Fleur de Sel, or Sea salt.
The percentage of sodium will remain the same. You wont get more sodium from 1.5 t of kosher salt vs. 1 t table salt.
Why my recipes usually call for salt “to taste”
Unless I am baking, my recipes usually call for salting “to taste”. This is for three purposes.
- Personal taste preference: As described in the introduction, often what is over salted to one person is under salted to another. Per taste, what your palate likes is the correct amount for you.
- Health and Nutrition: Salt levels relate to special diet needs. Often people with heart health issues are told to reduce salt. Regardless of what your palate wants, the rest of your body may require something different.
- Type of Salt: The amount of salt you need is also determined by the type of salt you use. Often, I use no salt at all, replacing it with umeboshi plum paste – see below.
For those reasons, I build options into all my recipes. One can personalize these recipes, and if needed or desired, reduce salt and bump up the other flavors.
A note for general use: Salting food properly – to taste – during the cooking process, rather than at the table, generally results overall in a consumption of much less salt! When salt is part of the dish and not an afterthought, it incorporates into the dish, enhancing the other flavors, and you do not need as much.
Beneficial Nutrients and Special Diet Notes
Iodized Table Salt
In the 1920’s iodine was added to salt because it was lacking in the American diet. Iodine deficiency resulted in high incidences of goiter. Iodine is an essential nutrient and provides many health benefits.
But consider this:
- Iodized table salt is a chemically processed food. It is bleached and stripped of naturally occurring minerals. It contain additives, like aluminum, to prevent clumpling.
- Today, iodine is readily available in a balanced diet of whole foods, including cranberries, strawberries, navy beans, eggs, sea vegetables, seafood, etc. In general, when one uses real food as a primary source of nutrients, the body can use what it needs and balance out the rest. Eat organically as much as possible. Pesticides deplete iodine. (Look for “bromine-free” labels)
- Too much iodine is also a bad thing. Consulting your physician, make choices that are best for you.
If you are concerned about iodine deficiency, there are other ways to supplement, including nascent iodine… or you can regularly consume foods rich in iodine.
Nutritionally speaking, kosher salt is kind of a middle-of-the-road product. It is less refined than table salt and contains more minerals.
Unrefined Sea Salts
These sea salts contain some 80 trace minerals which are not stripped by processing, such as iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and iodine. Thanks to those naturally occurring minerals, natural sea salts do not tend to clump and have no need for additives.
Some sources claim that high quality sea salts do not raise blood pressure as does table salt. Please consult with your physician concerning what is best for you.
Pink Himalayan Sea Salt – (pictured above) Proponents of this salt say that it is the most ancient of salts, the highest grade, the most pure, and that its mineral content mirrors the elements in your body, therefore the body can process it well.
Reduced Salt and No Salt Diets
If you are on a NO SALT diet, you should not have to live with a bland diet. Get to know spices, herbs, vinegars, and all kinds of new and exciting flavors more readily available today than ever before! You can make your own ready-to-use curry powders, Chinese 5-spice, and Mediterranean seasonings. No need to rely on sodium for flavor! You will be surprised at how well your palate adjusts, especially if your health improves.
It could also be worth it to ask your doc if you can tolerate some pink Himalayan salt.
If you are on a reduced salt diet, consider this option:
Umeboshi Plum Paste
Umeboshi Plum Paste contains about 5.66% sodium, compared to salt’s 40%. And a little goes a long way!
Umeboshi plums have been historically grown in Japan, Taiwan, and China, and are now being grown in the U.S. as well. The plums are pickled with salt and shiso leaves while they are still green. Their taste is unique and at first a bit confusing, but then addicting. Before long, one begins to crave this new flavor. They are sour, salty, and bitter… basically everything except sweet. Small amounts can flavor soups, stews, and a multitude of dishes. Use ume plum paste as a salt replacement.
Because of the properties of the plum itself as well as the pickling process, ume plum paste, not only replaces salt, but brings its own health benefits to the table as well. This ingredient is used to:
- tonify and purify the body, in general
- promote longevity
- even cure a hangover
… and these fermented plums were used in the 16th century Samurai diet to build strength and stamina! – according to Crescent Dragonwagon; author of Passionate Vegetarian.
I have not used it for those purposes, but from both a personal chef’s point of view, and a nutritional standpoint, I do love this ingredient!
Here is a super simple “recipe” with only two ingredients.
Umeboshi Corn on the Cob
For this dish, ume plum paste acts as both butter replacement and salt replacement. The flavor synergy between the two ingredients hits every part of your tongue! Corn is sweet, and ume is salty, sour, and bitter.
- Corn on the cob
- Umeboshi plum paste
Steam, or boil, corn until tender. Slather on desired amount of umeboshi plum paste. Serve immediately. Sooooo simple! Sooooo good!
Special Diet Notes:
- This is reduced sodium, not sodium-free! Watch your portion sizes.
- Vegan Diets – Umeboshi Plum products are brilliant for a vegan diet. They may be used replace butter (on corn) and add so much flavor
- Raw Vegan Diets – Umeboshi plums are a raw, fermented food. There is no reason why you cannot leave the corn raw too. I LOVE snacking on raw corn, especially when it is in season.
- DASH-Sodium diet recommends consuming less than 1500 mg sodium/day. That equates to about 4.41 t. ume plum paste.
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Please note: This blog is provided for informational purposes only. Please consult your physician of choice concerning all matters pertaining to your personal health.