Monthly Archives: November 2014

Week 26: Salt




Salt is the most common seasoning used in cooking. It adds essential minerals and enhances the flavor of food. As our palates have become more refined, the variety of available salts has increased.

Salt is a mineral substance composed primarily of sodium chloride. Salt is present in vast quantities in the sea where it is the main mineral constituent, with the open ocean having a salinity of 3.5%. Salt is essential for human and animal life, and saltiness is one of the basic human tastes. Salt is produced from the evaporation of seawater or mineral-rich spring water in shallow pools or is extracted from salt mines.


Some of the earliest evidence of salt processing dates to around 6,000 years ago, when people living in Romania boiled spring water to extract the salts. A saltworks in China has been found which dates to the same period. Salt was prized by the ancient Hebrews, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Hittites and the Egyptians. Salt became an important article of trade and was transported by boat across the Mediterranean Sea, along specially built salt roads, and across the Sahara in camel caravans. Salt has been used for barter and for currency. Moorish merchants in the 6th century even traded salt for gold, weight for weight. The scarcity and universal need for salt has led nations to go to war over salt and use it to raise tax revenues. Salt is also used in religious ceremonies and has other cultural significance. Various governments have at different times imposed salt taxes on their peoples.

Types of Salt

Sea Salt – Sea salt and table salt usually contain an anti-caking agent and may be iodized to prevent iodine deficiency. Unrefined sea salt contains small amounts of magnesium, calcium, sulphates, traces of algae, salt-resistant bacteria and sediment particles. Sea salt may have a more complex flavor than pure sodium chloride when sprinkled on top of food. Fleur de sel is a natural sea salt from the surface of evaporating brine in salt pans in France.

Flaked Sea Salt – This salt has soft, sheer, pyramid-like flakes and will add a hint of briny flavor. It comes from England’s Essex coast is where the most popular brand, Maldon, is harvested. It is the fastest dissolving salt.

Kosher Salt – Kosher salt, though refined, contains no iodine and has coarse crystals. This can give it different properties when used in cooking. Some kosher salt has been certified to meet kosher requirements by a hechsher, but this is not true for all products labeled as kosher salt.

 Rock Salt – Rock salt has large, chunky unevenly shaped crystals. It is used primarily for making ice cream. You can also use it to deice your sidewalks and driveway in the winter months.

Pickling Salt – Like table salt, pickling salt may come from the earth or the sea. But unlike table salt, it isn’t fortified with iodine and doesn’t contain anti-caking chemicals, both of which would turn pickles an unappetizing color. Virtually 100 percent sodium chloride, it’s the purest of salts. and is far more concentrated than the common salt.

Himalayan Pink Salt – This salt originates from Pakistan where it is hand mined, hand washed and sun dried. It is light pink with variations of white and red. About 200 million years ago, there were crystallized sea salt beds that were covered with lava. Being kept in this untouched, pristine environment that has been surrounded with snow and ice for so many years means that the salt has been protected from modern day pollution. Many people believe that this pink salt from the Himalayas is the purest salt that can be found on the planet.

Smoked salt – Smoked salt is an aromatic salt that has been smoked with any number of select bark free woods for up to 14 days. The type of wood used for smoking impacts the flavor, whether it be subtle, bold or even sweet. The most common choices are alder wood, apple wood, hickory, mesquite, and oak. Infused smoked salts like smoked bacon chipotle sea salt are very popular because of the dynamic flavor profiles.

Hawaiian Black Lava Salt – Hawaiian sea salt is harvested from salt farms on the tiny island of Molokai. Hawaiian ocean water is drawn into complex array of filters and is evaporated through a sophisticated solar evaporation method leaving behind the finished salt product which is hand collected and further infused or “bathed” in activated Coconut shell charcoal. Premium Hawaiian natural sea salts have a unique combination of taste, color, and mineral content. It is coarse in grain size, but brittle, for an interesting crunchy texture. Black Lava salt should not be used during the actual cooking process as it will dissolve and the added black elements will simply settle to the bottom as a residue. It should be used as a finishing salt after the fact, where its bold taste can be savored and fully enjoyed. It goes well with all types of seafood, salads, vegetables, and even some deserts. Black Lava salt has incredible detoxifying qualities and is used in salt scrubs, exfoliates, scrubs, and masks by many spas across the country

Health Notes

 Too much sodium in the diet raises blood pressure and may increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The World Health Organization recommends that adults should consume less than 2,000 mg of sodium which is equivalent to 5 grams of salt per day.

Industrial Uses

Only about 6% of the salt manufactured in the world is used in food. Of the remainder, 12% is used in water conditioning processes, 8% goes for de-icing highways and 6% is used in agriculture. The rest (68%) is used for manufacturing and other industrial processes, such as in the manufacture of PVC, plastics and paper pulp. Salt is also used in the production of aluminum, soap, glycerine and synthetic rubber.



Week 25: Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Substitutes

Artificial Sweeteners


Sugar (sucrose) has 16 calories per teaspoon and is found naturally in fruit. Americans eat approximately165 pounds of sugar per person per year.  It offers no nutritional benefits. The consumption of sugar leads to obesity and tooth decay and contributes to diabetes. Sugar substitutes include both natural and artificial sweeteners.

Among the natural sweeteners that the FDA recognizes as being generally safe for consumption are fruit juices and agave nectar, honey, molasses, and maple syrup.

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes but may be derived from naturally occurring substances, including herbs or sugar itself. Artificial sweeteners are also known as intense sweeteners because they are many times sweeter than regular sugar. Artificial sweeteners are found in products marked “sugar free” or “diet” and are preferred by those who are diabetic or who want to reduce their caloric intake. Artificial sweeteners are widely used in processed foods, including baked goods, soft drinks, powdered drink mixes, candy, puddings, canned foods, jams and jellies, dairy products, and scores of other foods and beverages.

Artificial sweeteners are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as food additives. They must be reviewed and approved by the FDA before being made available for sale.

Agave nectar

Agave nectar is derived from the agave cactus and has a taste and texture similar to honey. It is sweeter than sugar as it contains more fructose.

Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet) This sweetener contains the sugars fructose and glucose from processed corn syrup. It contains 17 calories per teaspoon. Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by James M. Schlatter at the G.D. Searle company (later purchased by Monsanto). He was working on an anti-ulcer drug and accidentally spilled some aspartame on his hand. When he licked his finger, he noticed that it had a sweet taste. It is an odorless, white crystalline powder that is about 200 times as sweet as sugar and can be used as a tabletop sweetener or in frozen desserts, gelatins, beverages, and chewing gum. When cooked or stored at high temperatures, aspartame breaks down into its constituent amino acids. This makes aspartame undesirable as a baking sweetener.


Honey is made by bees using nectar from flowers. Honey bees transform nectar into honey by a process of regurgitation and evaporation. They store it as a primary food source in wax honeycombs inside a beehive. According to a cave painting from Valencia, Spain, hunters began collecting honey from wild bees nests over 8,000 years ago. Honey contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, and studies suggest it may not raise blood sugar as fast as other sweet products. It contains 21 calories per teaspoon. Honey is rich in antioxidants and includes vitamins B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and certain amino acids.. The minerals found in honey include calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc.

Honey can contain small amounts of bacterial spores that can produce botulism toxin. Because of that, honey shouldn’t be given to children less than 1 year old.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is made from the sap of the Sugar Maple tree, although it can also be made from other maple species as well. In cold climates, these trees store starch in their trunks and roots before the winter; the starch is then converted to sugar that rises in the sap in the spring. Maple trees can be tapped by boring holes into their trunks and collecting the exuded sap. The sap is processed by heating to evaporate much of the water, leaving the concentrated syrup. Maple syrup was first collected and used by the indigenous peoples of North America. The practice was adopted by European settlers, who gradually refined production methods. Technological improvements in the 1970s further refined syrup processing. Maple syrup is similar to sugar with respect to calorie content, but is a source of manganese, zinc, calcium and sodium. It contains 52 calories per teaspoon.


Molasses, or black treacle, is a viscous by-product of the refining of sugar cane or sugar beets into sugar. Molasses is used in making rum, stout and porter, in dark rye breads and is a supplement in livestock feeds. It is a good source of calcium, magnesium and iron. It contains 58 calories per teaspoon.

Rebiana (Nuvia)

Rebiana is derived from the leaves of the stevia plant, a shrub that grows in South and Central America. Rebiana is deemed the natural alternative to artificial sweeteners. It has 0 calories. Stevia has been widely used as a natural sweetener in South America for centuries and in Japan since 1970, due to its unique characteristics of zero calories and the fact that it does not raise blood sugar levels.

Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)

Saccharin was the first artificial sweetener and was originally synthesized in 1879 by Remsen and Fahlberg. Its sweet taste was discovered by accident. It has 0 calories. In a 1960 study saccharin showed that high levels of saccharin may cause bladder cancer in laboratory rats. In 1977, Canada banned saccharin due to the animal research. In the United States, the FDA considered banning saccharin in 1977, but Congress stepped in and placed a moratorium on such a ban.

Sucralose (Splenda)

Sucralose is a chlorinated sugar that is about 600 times as sweet as sugar, although it has 0 calories. It is used in beverages, frozen desserts, chewing gum, baked goods, and other foods. Unlike other artificial sweeteners, it is stable when heated and can therefore be used in baked and fried goods.

Sugar Alcohols (Sorbitol, Xylitol)

Sugar alcohols (polyols) are carbohydrates that occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables, but they also can be manufactured. They’re often used in sugar-free foods marketed to diabetics, because they contain fewer carbohydrates than table sugar. Sugar alcohols have 10 calories per teaspoon, and they don’t cause tooth decay like table sugar.



Harvard School of Public Health