Mark Bitterman Names the Crimes Against Salt
“Sins against salt? I should come up with seven so we can make it Biblical,” says Mark Bitterman, co-owner of a store called The Meadow, which sell salts from all over the world. Here, the expert shares six shameful salt mistakes.
Photo courtesy of Mark Bitterman.
KOSHER SALT.Kosher salt is one of the greatest sins against salt there is. It’s an industrial chemical; it’s not food. Most of what industrial salt makers manufacture goes to huge industrial applications—not just food processing but pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper and a bunch of other things. Kosher salt is designed to kosher, to draw out moisture. It’s basically an industrial desiccating agent. So when you put that chemical desiccating agent on your mouth, it’s trying to bore holes through the side of your head. That’s kosher salt’s role in life, to hurt you.
SALT SHAKERS.To me the salt shaker is the symbol of industrialization's triumph over naturalness. Shaker salt is pure refined sodium chloride made into about the ugliest, most useless form possible—identically shaped cubes that all hit your mouth in exactly the same way. To make those crystals pourable, they add sodium ferrocyanide and dextrose, and a whole bunch of other junk. It’s sort of like turning all the cheese in the world into Velveeta. A shaker turns something that should be special and deliberate, this moment of seasoning your food, of enhancing the flavor of your beautiful ingredient, and turns it into something rote and dismissive.
PAYING TOO LITTLE FOR SALT.So many snarky little articles on artisan salt dismiss it as a pretentious ingredient that costs a fortune that you should only buy if you have nothing better to do in your life. But that doesn’t hold up to any scrutiny. Let’s take Maldon. That’s a relatively expensive salt compared to a cheap sea salt. But how much does it cost per serving? To put it into perspective, there’s no other ingredient except water that costs you less. And there’s no other ingredient, period, that does more. So you’re criticizing the most cost-effective ingredient on the face of the earth for not being some free industrial product. It’s kind of funny, you know?
SAYING SALT IS BAD FOR YOU.Salt is absolutely essential to your nutrition and your flavor. You have to use salt, and you have to use it with love and happiness and delight. The salt health debate has more holes in it than a sieve. They’ve shown there’s no correlation between hypertension and salt consumption. You get high blood pressure from being overweight, or from eating too much sugar, or carbohydrates, or being old, or from lots of other things that we don’t understand very well. But not from salt.
TAKING SALT FOR GRANTED.Since the dawn of civilization, every single human population everywhere in the world that could make salt did. Every one of those salts that every single person has made for the last 12 millennia was different. Salt is the most diverse, distinctive food on the face of the earth. To call it something that is an innocuous, source-less, refined chemical that is just called salt is a crime against our culture and our traditions and our history.
SEASONING FOODS TOO EVENLY.We learned it from the French, alas, this textbook idea that when you eat a food, every single bite should taste identical to the previous bite. Everything should be seasoned identically and uniformly. That’s what good technique does. And I beg to differ. I think that’s boring. I think that can lead to palate fatigue. A steak is a great example. You can season a steak very slightly and then more heavily with fresh crystals once it’s cooked. Then you have this beautiful play of salt crystal off meat that is far more dynamic and layered than a steak that’s been shellacked through and through and only once with salt.