Sendha namak, sea salt, kala namak, kosher salt, low sodium salt and many more options are available in the market these days. Too much salt is not good for health, but is one type of salt better than the other? In this article we explore some of these options for their origin and impact on our body. We try to simplify the choice of salt by looking at it from our health lens. Read below to know more.
1. What is salt?
Salt is a mineral compound, primarily comprising of sodium and chloride. It is found in abundance in nature – in sea water and rock deposits.
2. How is salt produced?
Salt is extracted from sea water or rock deposits in three different ways:
Solar Evaporation – In this process, seawater is fed into artificial salt ponds. Water is separated by the natural evaporation method and the left behind salt is harvested. This is sea salt.
Rock Salt Mining – The dry salt present in salt bearing rocks is extracted through mining methods and machines. This is rock salt.
Solution Mining – Salt is also extracted by drying up and processing of salt solution or brine. While oceans are natural source of brine, it is also obtained industrially from the rock salt layer deep under the ground. Water is fed into the salt mines to pump out brine. The brine is then processed and refined to make common salt or table salt.
Therefore, sea-salt and rock salt are extracted as they exist in their natural form, table-salt is the processed version of naturally existing salt.
3. Table salt is commonly used in households. How it is made and how does body deal with it? Can it be called a natural food item?
The table salt that we commonly use is obtained by multi-stage processing of brine:
Concentrated salt solution or brine is obtained from natural salt deposits.
Softening of brine – The unprocessed brine is a concentrated solution of common salt and other minerals. The other minerals are considered as impurities that hinder further processing to give a desired colour and texture. Therefore, these are removed by treating brine with various chemicals (like quick lime, soda, carbon dioxide, etc).
Crystallization – the brine is boiled in an evaporator by application of steam at high temperature. The salt crystallizes continuously and is collected as a wet paste.
Drying – wet salt paste is fed into centrifuges to separate water and salt. Finally, a hot air stream is applied to remove any remaining traces of moisture from the salt. Just about few millimetres of moisture is left in about 100 kg of salt!
At this stage, anti-caking agents (which are chemicals like ferro cyanide and alumina silicate) are added to make the salt free-flow and prevent lumping. These additives cause discoloration of refined salt, so bleaching agents are used to get a pure white colour.
As it can be seen, the process of making table salt transforms the naturally existing salt into a processed and refined food item. The process requires application of high heat, which disrupts the molecular structure of salt and the naturally occurring trace minerals are stripped off. There are chemicals used at different stages. Chemicals interfere with our body’s functions and have been linked to a myriad of health issues. Hence this kind of salt is not a natural food.
4. How about rock salt? Is that a good substitute for table salt?
Rock salt is the naturally occurring mineral and crystal form of salt. It may have a white or colourless or pink appearance, depending upon the predominant mineral in it. It is extracted from rock deposits formed millions of years ago due to drying up of ancient seas and lakes. It is extracted by using mining methods – drilling, blasting and cutting the rocks. It can be mechanically processed by breaking and grinding the salt lumps and is later sifted, visually inspected and packaged. Hence rock salt is a pure form of salt – unprocessed and raw, devoid of any artificial chemicals. It is said that rock salt contains trace elements (about 84 out of 92) required by the human body, many of which are often stripped off in refining process to make table salt.
Kaala namak / black salt and Himalayan Pink Salt are two commonly available forms of rock salt.
5. And sea salt? Where does that stand vis-a-vis rock salt and table salt?
Sea salt is different than white salt in its texture and appearance – it has larger flakes. It is made by naturally evaporating seawater. Unlike refined salt, it is not processed or treated with anti-clumping additives. In composition, sea salt also comprises of sodium and chloride, but it also has some trace minerals like potassium, iron, phosphorus and zinc. The additional minerals give it a distinct flavour and colour. A recent concern over the use of sea-salt is the presence of toxic metals like mercury and even micro-plastics as our seas are becoming more and more polluted.
6. Table salt, rock salt, sea salt and so many other varieties also available these days – kosher salt, celtic salt, low sodium salt, etc? How does one really choose what is good?
When it comes to choosing from various food alternatives, it can help to put the options on a scale of natural foods vs refined foods. Sea salt and rock salt are commonly available variants of salt. Unlike common salt, these are ‘unrefined’ salts and hence free of chemicals and additives. They also contain broad spectrum of trace elements like potassium, sulphur, magnesium etc. The presence of potassium and magnesium in salt is crucial, as these minerals help the body metabolize the sodium better. Excess of sodium is bad for health. Any other options like celtic salt, kosher salt etc can be assessed on similar basis.
In addition to this, one must engage with the vendor / brand of salt to understand the process with which salt is made. This may help in gauging if the salt is natural as it should be or commercial interests have taken over.
In recent years, there has been increased awareness that common salt may cause increased sodium levels in the body and lead to health issues, hence the trend of low-sodium salt. This is the variety of refined salt that has higher percentage of potassium. But just as excess sodium is not good for us, excess potassium is also not good, it is known to cause symptoms like weakened pulse, low heartbeat or muscle weakness. Also, putting low sodium salt on a scale of natural foods vs refined foods will help you decide if you want to consume it.
One should not try to micro manage sodium, potassium and other minerals and nutrients. Our aim should always be to keep a balance and follow a moderate approach. Our body doesn’t need salt per se, it needs the minerals present in the salt, as they occur in their natural state, else they are toxic for our body. We can get these minerals by eating a variety of whole, plant based foods that are fresh and seasonal. This will give desired inputs to the body for performing its functions and keeping us in good health.
7. Which salt to choose and where to buy from?
It does get confusing to be able to zero down upon a particular option of salt.
While opting for the salt varieties that are not processed and refined it helps to know that these may NOT be:
Pure white in colour. The colour may vary from off-white to pink or even light grey, depending upon the natural mineral content.
Free-flowing and may tend to clump over-time.
These days, options like sea-salt and rock salt are easily available at most departmental stores. You could evaluate and choose from some of the locally packaged options or may want to try some branded variants. Some brands easily available online are as follows.
Price (per 500 gm)
24 Mantra Organic
24 Mantra website
Nature’s Basket, Amazon
Tata Rock salt
While opting for more natural alternatives is beneficial for the body, you may want to consider making changes based on your comfort. You could either do an immediate change or shift gradually from the salt you are using currently. Irrespective of the kind of salt we choose to have, salt is best consumed in moderation. It is important to know that the amount of salt that we consume comes not only through the food we cook at home but also through packaged, processed foods that find their way into our kitchen and plates. And high salt intake has adverse effect on our body in many ways. One could also look at replacing salt in food with other flavouring agents. Read more on this in our blog Do you know everything about salt?
Disclaimer: The health journeys, blogs, videos and all other content on Wellcure is for educational purposes only and is not to be considered a ‘medical advice’ ‘prescription’ or a ‘cure’ for diseases. Any specific changes by users, in medication, food & lifestyle, must be done under the guidance of licensed health practitioners. The views expressed by the users are their personal views and Wellcure claims no responsibility for them.