Are Gourmet Salts Better For Your Health?

There are an awful lot of claims being made for gourmet salt and they fall into two categories: health benefits and taste. The wide variety of tastes and textures available in gourmet salts is undeniable (more on that in a moment). The health benefits… not so much.

Many integrative medicine experts — like David B, MD and Edward Group, ND — have gone on record as saying that common table salt is empty of any nutritional value, as all the valuable minerals have been removed in the processing.

Other experts point out that even though natural, gourmet salts contain trace minerals not found in processed table salt, the gourmet salts still contain as much sodium as table salt. Too much sodium can raise blood pressure and cause inflammation. “All of these salts are basically still sodium chloride”, said Suzanne Hobbs. DrPH, MS, RD. ”They contain the same amount of sodium as regular table salt, and that’s the issue”.

Ordinary salt out of the shaker comes from underground salt deposits which are then refined (much like table sugar) until all that remains is sodium and chloride. (Iodized salt also has iodine). Part of the allure of gourmet salts is that they are much less processed than regular table salt. This allows the gourmet salt manufacturers to claim that their products contain a wealth of minerals missing from ordinary table salt.

There’s  no convincing science demonstrating the higher mineral content of less processed (gourmet) salts, but the manufacturers make a convincing case. It certainly makes sense that less processed salt will by definition contain more minerals than the highly refined variety. Some cutting edge integrative medicine gurus are devotees — the Celtic Sea Salt website includes endorsements from the likes of Christiane Northrup, MD, and David Brownstein, MD. who believe the trace mineral content of this variety makes it inherently better than the processed kind.

What follows is some of the more interesting products being marketed in the gourmet salt world, along with the claims made by the manufacturers.

Himalayan Pink Sea Salt has a beautiful pink color and is harvested from salt deposits in the Himalayan mountains. It’s said to be high in mineral content.

Alaea Hawaiian sea salt is a ruddy red color and is said to be used in cleansing ceremonies and healing rituals. It’s also the traditional Hawaiian table salt. It gets its red color from a small amount of Hawaiian red clay (called Alaea), which is said to enrich the salt with iron oxide. This is the seasoning used for traditional Hawaiian dishes like Kalua Pig and Hawaiian Jerky. (16 oz 8.95). There is also a black version of Hawaiian sea salt known as Hiwa Kai which is Pacific sea salt combined with charcoal.

Flake salt is made by evaporating seawater using nothing but sun and wind, which produces a brine that’s fed into an evaporating pan and heated until crystals of salt appear. The finished product is light and flaky and  resembles large pyramid shaped crystals. It’s often used as a garnish for vegetable dishes and fish.

Cyprus Black Lava Flake Salt is Mediterranean sea salt mixed with activated charcoal which gives it an unusual black color. The manufacturer claims that the salt is a natural detoxifier, probably based on the ability of charcoal to absorb toxins in the body.

Bolivian Rose salt comes from the Andes Mountains and is said to be hand harvested. Claim: ancient sea salt deposits were covered with lava from volcanos creating a salt with extremely high mineral content, and also protecting it from pollution. It is gorgeous- light rose and orange- and looks great in a clear salt shaker.

Grey Salt (also known as Sel Gris) is a “moist” salt, unrefined, and generally from the coastal areas of France. It’s unusual color — grey verging on light purple — comes from the clay found in the salt flats, clay that is believed to be mineral-rich. It comes in coarse, stone ground fine, and extra fine, and many chefs consider it to be the best quality salt around.

Smoked Sea Salt is naturally smoked over wood fires infusing the salt crystals with a smokey flavor and making it perfect for roasts and grilling. The manufacturer recommends it particularly for salmon. It has an interesting dark color and a large coarse grain.

Black Salt (also known as Kala Namak, and Sanchal)

This salt is actually more like a pinkish grey than black, but it is unrefined with a strong flavor reminiscent of sulfur (think hard boiled eggs). It comes in both coarse grain and very fine grain and is used in authentic Indian cooking.

For those who want to cut back on sodium altogether, Hobbs recommends herb mixtures like Mrs. Dash. “People can use the herb mixtures liberally”, said Hobbs. “These are the real beneficial salt substitutes”.  She also suggests potassium chloride (like Morton’s Light Salt), which is made from potassium rather than sodium. “But anyone who has kidney problems has to watch out with potassium chloride”, she warns. “It might be contraindicated for certain conditions. Check with your doctor”.

So what’s the bottom line? Use the gourmet salts for their flavor, their exotic colors, and their unusual shapes and textures. But use them sparingly. “We should be just as cautious with the gourmet forms of salt as we should be with regular table salt”, said Hobbs.

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10 Comments

  1. Cat

    Hi Jonny,
    thanks for the great article on salt. I am a self admitted nouveau salt snob and proud to say it! Also a Hipocrates gal, using food as my medicine and letting my medicine be my food the introduction of different salts over the last couple of years has been interesting and fun. expensive but fun. yes the textures and colors add to differennt dishes and presentations…My husband, funny dude, says to me one day afte the Himalayan came home “Honey I hate to tell you this but there ain’t no seas in the Himilayas” his way of saying, what are ya, nuts but he loves me anyway and meals are interesting and healthy most days…Dr Oz had some good words for the Himalayan Pink from a mineral stand point and that made sense to me. I like the less processed aspect of “gourmet” salts.
    Eating healthier is much easier since I reac your books, thanks for sharing.
    Cat

    Reply
  2. pojp58

    Dont we get enough salt it the foods we eat?

    Reply
  3. rey

    Oct 12th 2010
    Thansk for the infos on the varous salts available many of which I was unaware of..
    However most salt expert are silent about the mount of F-FLUORIDE thesesalts do contain.EU rule does not require the manufacturers to state if any F with them if I recall correctly.
    alts cotnainngthe most angerous amot of Fluoride are Himalayan salts(and derived products-salt la mps,etc..) and Bolivian salt(close to 50% of thepopulation is affected by fluoride related illnesses..
    Do a simple google searcnh about salt and fluoride.

    http://sonic.net/kryptox/nutri/saltGermany.htm
    http://www.fluoridealert.org

    Yours,rey
    Note The Himalayan salt fad was started y a Swiss promoter/writer/journalist with a dubious and became a millionaire via peddling his MLM scheme to health Californians.. gurus,,

    Reply
  4. Rob O.

    I do like to use coarsely-ground sea salt when cooking – an especially when marinating chicken for the grill. I’m no foodie so I’m probably not using the right terminology, but sea salt seems to have a less “sharp” flavor than standard table salt.

    But more importantly, I find I can use about half as much sea salt as compared to the amount of table salt called for in recipes. Just a little makes a world of difference in flavor – try the slightest sprinkle of sea salt on quartered apple wedges and you might be surprized by how much sweeter they taste.

    Reply
  5. Carlos

    I used to have slightly high blood pressure, and by reducing the table salt intake, my blood pressure got back to normal, so my food was not really tasty. When I switched to celtic sea salt, or other unrefined sea salts (Redmont, Himalayan), I started using more salt and my blood pressure never increased again, so I guess that unrefined sea salts are better (at least for me).

    Reply
  6. Jessica

    I have noticed a change in our overall health since switching from table salt to Himalayan pink salt. We get ours from Sustainable Sourcing https://secure.sustainablesourcing.com since they are an eco-conscious company so I feel good about that too!

    Reply
  7. Katie NZ

    My son’s partner has Himalayan Pink Salt on her table, and there was much discussion about it.. the added minerals etc.
    However I read Wikipedia’s comments.. Himalayan Pink Salt is mined in Pakistan,
    The label announced that the Pink Salt is from South Africa..
    I wonder.. we all wondered.

    Reply
  8. Megan Joseph

    However, you have to admit that it is a little creepy that most of the salt products at the grocery store include an ingredient list with dextrose and chemical additives.

    Reply

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