A Guide to Salts + How to Make Gomasio

NOTE: The beautiful bowls you see in this post are Raku ceramics handmade by Zaira of The Freaky Table! Check our her work, she’s insane.

Nowadays, if you google scientific research on salt, you will find many articles that state that salt is not bad for you, and even articles that state that too much salt is not bad for you. Now, I am a believer that most foods will not harm you if you know how much to eat, but I do believe that excess consumption of something definitely will. Try as you might, you will have a hard time convincing me that too much salt is not bad for me (tell that to my cellulite. Duh).

Save for cases in which removing a food from your diet brought you incredible benefits, I do not think it salt should be avoided completely. I do use salt, I use it in moderation, and try to get the best salt I can. As I started researching salt, I realized how little everyone knows about the many salts available. This little guide wants to make a list of the best salts out there and put them on the table (pun intended) for you to have a deeper look.

Just like sugar, flour, etc., salt comes in refined and unrefined form. What’s the difference? And what have we been using all along?

An Illustrated Guide to Salt, and How to Make Gomasio | Hortus Natural Cooking

HOW ARE REFINED SALTS AND WHOLE, UNREFINED SALTS DIFFERENT?

Salt is refined for a number of reasons: its bright white, perfectly dry flakes look more appealing to the buyer, it can be rid of any residues in case it is harvested from a polluted area, and can be enriched with iodine to have the added claim of helping with thyroid issues. Refined salt is mechanically harvested, bleached, and treated with chemicals to separate the sodium chloride from other minerals. It is, therefore, cheap. Refined salts must comply with USDA purity standards. Because it is pure salt, it is also, well…the saltiest.

on the other hand, unrefined salts, which include famous salts like fleur de sel and sel de Camargue, are hand-harvested in specific areas and environments, and are still filled with their numerous minerals and nutrients. Even the macrobiotic diet suggests the use of unrefined salt, as unrefined salt can help the body keep its natural pH balance if used in moderation, while modern excess use of refined salt is very acidic for the body. Depending on the kind of salt the prices range a lot, going from affordable to quite expensive. But that’s only better – hey, you’re going to use less!

Should you want to read more about salt and its impact on our health, I suggest you read this article which I really enjoyed.

{COMMON SALTS}
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TABLE SALT
Table salt is the classic, cheap rock salt you normally find everywhere, and is usually cleaned of any residue and whitened with chemicals. It usually also contains anti-caking agents and is often enriched with iodine. It is the ‘saltiest’ salt, as it contains more Sodium Chloride than other kinds of salt.

KOSHER SALT
Kosher salt can be either rock or sea salt, and, although it is usually refined as well, it is better in quality than table salt. It is great for all-purpose cooking, especially if you do not want to spend a lot on salt.

COARSE SALT
Every kind of dry salt can be fine or coarse. Coarse salt is used in Italy to salt pasta water, and can be used to top grilled meats or fish. If you find good quality coarse salt (like Himalayan salt), keep it in a grinder and grind it as you need to dress dishes and salads. For salting pasta water, we tend to use decent salt that is neither too expensive, but is not the bottom of the line either.

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{FRENCH & CELTIC SALTS}
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GRAY SALT
Also known as ‘Sel Gris‘ or ‘Celtic Salt‘, it is a wonderful salt, hand-harvested by letting water evaporate, then letting the salt sink to the bottom and touch the pan, then raking the salt deposits. Usually harvested in Brittany and the coasts of England, and has a coarse-ish texture and has a greyish hue. It is perfect for both finishing and cooking. It is quite moist, so do not be surprised if it releases water or cakes a bit as it sits on the shelf. The most common kinds are Sel de Guerande, Sel de l’Ile de Re, and even our own Italian Sale di Cervia, which is produced here in Romagna (not far from where I live!)

FLEUR DE SEL
The ‘Flower of Salt‘ as the name suggests, is harvested by collecting the salt that floats on top of the water before it sinks to the bottom of the pond. It is traditionally harvested in northern France, and it is the best all-round salt. It has flat, large crystals that are easy to crumble between your fingers. Its higher cost would probably make it best for finishing. The fleur de sel you see in my picture is a kind of salt with beautiful square crystals called ‘Halen Môn‘ and is harvested in England. Unlike sel gris, fleur de sel tends to be dry.

An Illustrated Guide to Salt, and How to Make Gomasio | Hortus Natural Cooking

Sel Gris & Hawaiian Red Salt

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{SPECIAL SALTS}
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HIMALAYAN SALT
Pink Himalayan salt is one of the best, naturally purest salts. Though it is hand-mined, it derives from ancient deposits of sea salts, which have soaked in minerals and traces of other nutrients. Depending on the amount of minerals present, it can go from a very light pink to a more reddish hue. Slabs of Himalayan salt are also used for cooking and serving food, as it retains temperature well. It is my favorite finishing salt and the one I use here to make Gomasio.

BLACK SALT
This salt is so dark both because of the numerous minerals and sulphureous substances it contains, and because it is bonded with activated charcoal, which can be a strong cleanser for the body. Black salt can have various origins – Hawaii, India, France, and it is used in Ayurvedic cooking due to its high concentration of minerals, as it is believed to be extremely healthy and beneficial to the body.

An Illustrated Guide to Salt, and How to Make Gomasio | Hortus Natural Cooking

Himalayan salt & Black salt

RED HAWAIIAN SALT
This special salt, also called ‘Alaea‘ (Hawaiian clay), is totally natural and gets its rust color by the clay that is naturally present in the sea and sand and that enriches the salt with iron oxide. It is known as a cleansing salt by Hawaiian populations and is of course used in local cooking. It has, as you can imagine, a slightly irony taste which I believe makes a lot of sense on grilled dishes.

FLAVORED & SMOKED SALTS 
Celery, truffle, vanilla and cardamom are just some of the most commonly used flavored salts, perfect for adding a little something special to your dishes. Truffle salt would be perfect for finishing a fall/winter pasta or anything with mushrooms, while vanilla and cardamom are used mostly on fish. Be careful with celery salt, as it can often contain chemicals and preservatives like sodium nitrate, which is also added to cured meats and should be avoided completely. 101 Cookbooks has a wonderful recipe for making your own.
Smoked salt is made by smoking the salt with several kinds of bark-free woods, mostly oak, applewood, and mesquite. Each kind of woods imparts a different flavor, so smoked salts are definitely not created equal. Smoked salt is perfect for vegetarian and vegan recipes that need that barbecue flavor, making it a blast on veggie burgers and grilled tofu or tempeh. Try it instead of liquid smoke!
Make sure your salt is smoked and note smoke-flavored, which would be full of additives.
(I just got some applewood smoked salt from Raw Spice Bar and I can’t wait to try it on a veggie burger with caramelized onions!)

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GOMASIO

And here is my favorite condiment! The word ‘gomasio’ comes from the Japanese ‘Goma Shio‘ ごま塩 , which means ‘sesame salt’. Not only this will have you use less salt, but you will also have the added benefit of sesame seeds, which are a real power food: rich in iron, calcium, healthy fats, folic acid and several minerals. Sesame has shown to contribute to keep cholesterol levels at bay, and the B vitamins it contains are extremely beneficial for hair, nails and pregnant women and women in general). Sure, you need to consume more than a teaspoon of it to get its full benefits, and gomasio still contains salt, so make sure you do not overdo it. However, 30g of seeds and nuts per day are enough to see health improvements!

An Illustrated Guide to Salt, and How to Make Gomasio | Hortus Natural CookingAn Illustrated Guide to Salt, and How to Make Gomasio | Hortus Natural Cooking

I love gomasio on raw salads and roasted vegetables, or on asian and east mediterranean inspired dishes.  Of course, it does impart its own flavor, so it might not be suitable for every dish, but I find it especially tasty in summer recipes.

I made it following the guide of Dr. Franco Berrino, a famous Italian researcher and oncologist, who suggests using gomasio instead of salt as much as possible.

How to Make Gomasio
 
Makes about ½ cup
Author:
Ingredients
  • 7 heaping tablespoons of sesame seeds
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of good quality salt (Himalayan or Fleur de Sel)
  • Herbs or ground seaweed or spirulina to taste
Instructions
  1. Heat a nonstick pan - or better, a cast-iron skillet until hot. Add the sesame seeds and toast them, stirring often. You know they are ready when they start to release their wonderful aroma, and when they do not stick to a metal spoon anymore (hence the humidity is gone).
  2. Toast the salt as well, stirring often for a couple of minutes.
  3. Transfer to a mortar and pestle (preferably a Suribachi if you have one) and coarsely grind the salt first, transfer to a clean glass jar and grind the sesame as well. You can grind it very finely or leave it a little more chunky - I like my gomasio to have a bit of texture. Add whatever herbs or algae you might want to use and transfer to the jar with the salt.
  4. Use as you would use normal salt on things that do not require cooking it - steamed veggies, raw salads, buddha bowls...

 A FINAL DISCLAIMER
Given that you use salt in moderation, I do not think that, even when using ‘bad’ salt, you will be using enough of it that will actually harm you (that’s the point!). In the same way, if you use ‘healthy’ salt in moderation, it might not be enough to show its health benefits. Still, it is something we use every day, sometimes with all our 3 main meals. So, if I love my whole food pantry, why should I choose refined?

What do you think?

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