Salt is one of the most commonly used ingredients in our kitchens, and it’s easy to see why. It adds flavor to our food, preserves it, and even plays a crucial role in the proper functioning of our bodies. But have you ever stopped to think about how salt works and why it’s so important?
From a culinary perspective, salt plays two key roles: food preservation and flavor enhancement. As a natural, plentiful, and cheap food preservative, salt has been used for centuries to keep food fresh. It does this by drawing out moisture from the food, which creates an environment where bacteria and other microorganisms cannot grow. This is why it’s commonly used in curing meat and fish, as well as in pickling vegetables.
Salt also enhances the flavor of food. When used properly, it minimizes bitterness, balances out sweetness, and enhances aromas, heightening our experience of eating. In fact, adding a little bit of salt to almost everything we eat can make it taste better. It does this by drawing out the moisture from the food and by activating our taste receptors.
On our tongue, we have thousands of delicate taste buds that can detect five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. Interestingly, we are the least sensitive to salt but still about ten times more sensitive to it than to sugar. Salt enhances the flavor of other ingredients and minimizes bitterness, making food taste more balanced and delicious.
Listen to my weekly food chat with Kieran Cuddihy on Newstalk.
From a physiological perspective, salt is a mineral that helps our bodies function properly. The human body requires a small amount of sodium to conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles, and maintain the proper balance of water and minerals. But too much sodium in the diet can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. It can also cause calcium losses, some of which may be pulled from bone. Eating too much salt is linked to conditions such as cardiovascular and kidney disease.
When it comes to preserving food, salt inhibits bacteria in a variety of ways. It’s a disrupter that wreaks havoc in microbes, interrupting their enzymes and chipping away at their DNA. It most often works through dehydration, removing many of the water molecules that bacteria need to live and grow. Salt draws water out of cells via the process of osmosis. Essentially, water moves across a cell membrane to try to equalize the salinity or concentration of salt on both sides of the membrane. If you add enough salt, too much water will be removed from a cell for it to stay alive or reproduce.
Overall, salt is a vital ingredient in our kitchens and our bodies. It enhances the flavor of our food, preserves it, and even helps our bodies function properly. As with any ingredient, it’s important to use salt in moderation and to be mindful of the salt content of our diets. But when used properly, salt can truly make our food taste better and our bodies function properly.
I curate the best of my simple, seasonal recipes, wellness insights & modern lifestyle tips for you. And the best part, I deliver it straight to your inbox, along with some worthy insider perks, starting with 10% off our stunning wellness event.