From Himalayan salt, smoked salt and salt with flower petals to bamboo salt, today’s consumers will find an extensive range of different types of salt in their supermarkets. High quality standards apply to all these varieties. In small quantities, salt is essential for our survival; it is also a key ingredient in bread, cheese and processed meats, vegetables and fresh meat, and acts as a flavour carrier. TÜV SÜD offers tips on what consumers should watch for when buying and storing salt.
Salt plays a host of different roles in foods. Both in the form of table salt and as a food ingredient or constituent, it acts as a flavour carrier, carrier of minerals and preservative in addition to various other functions. “The Codex Alimentarius – the internationally recognised body of standards for foods – describes salt as a crystalline substance primarily consisting of not less than 97% sodium chloride; the remaining three per cent comprises other substances such as other minerals or trace elements, added iodine in carefully specified quantities, or anticaking agents”, explains Dr. Andreas Daxenberger, TÜV SÜD’s food expert.
The level of salt in foods is one of the seven mandatory nutritional values that must be declared on food packaging from December 2016. However, most manufacturers have declared the salt content of their products for years. Consumers can thus check their salt consumption by consulting the labelling on the majority of their weekly shop. But what about the different types of salt that line supermarket shelves today? What guidelines can consumers rely on?
Table salt is commonly produced as evaporated or boiled salt, and is manufactured by evaporating and crystallising salt solution (brine) made from rock salt. This rock salt is extracted by mining from geological sedimentary layers formed by the evaporation of seas and lakes. The manufacture of table salt by direct evaporation of sea water is a more complex procedure because sea water has a mere three per cent salt content. The procedure can be observed in hot coastal regions which are home to salt pans. Boiled salt is extremely pure because virtually all other substances are removed during the crystallisation process, while sea salt contains higher quantities of impurities.
In addition to these basic salts, there are also many different types of table salt with special added ingredients. Iodised salt contains traces of sodium or potassium iodate as a preventative against iodine deficiency. Fluoridated salt contains added sodium or potassium fluoride to protect teeth against caries. Addition of folic acid to guard against folic acid deficiency in the diet is also permissible. All added substances must be declared on the packaging. A wide range of herb and spiced salts, in which the flavouring elements are added to table salt, are also available. These should be not be confused with special types of sea salt, which contain different mineralities giving subtle flavour differences and are primarily appreciated by cooks and gourmets.
Consumers buying and using salt need to know the following important information:
Salt need not be expensive. Even cheaper products comply with high levels of purity and quality.
Normal table salt is a good choice for everyday use. e.g. for salting the cooking water for potatoes, rice, meat or vegetables.
Our perception of “saltiness” depends more on the fineness of the salt granules than on any provenance or exotic origins of the salt.
Most people believe coarse salt grains that are still perceptible in the finished food product have a deeper flavour than fine salt.
To reduce salt consumption while still producing tasty results, it is advisable to add salt as late as possible in the cooking process, shortly before serving.
Salt is hygroscopic and absorbs water from the air; because of this, it should not be stored directly next to the stove and must always be kept in an airtight container.
Salt corrodes metal, so that glass, ceramic or plastic containers are best for storage.
Areas of Germany that are far from the sea are designated as iodine-deficient by nutritional scientists. Inhabitants of These areas who do not consume marine foods may not always get enough iodine in their diet. Iodised salt was developed to combat this problem. As a result, disorders caused by iodine deficiency (goitre) have largely been eliminated in Germany.