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Worth its salt

Crystals of shallow salt in a scoop, spoon on a dark gray table. Background for advertising salt. Table salty. Salted food  

How many recipes have most of us seen with the instruction “salt to taste”? Perhaps, in all.

Students in my cookery classes would ask what and how much does salt to taste mean. I would wonder what explanation to give.

How come when I attended cookery classes, researched standardised recipes and wrote them out, I used this phrase without a second thought?

I had this explanation: an experienced cook knows her salt. It’s only when teaching a novice that the instruction should be clear.

Now, let me come to a further analysis of the instruction, which is so easily, frequently and carelessly used.

From the sea

From the physiological point of view, salt is an essential ingredient in food. Are there more than one variety of salt? Yes, there are. Nowadays, recipes specifically mention sea salt, while in the early days, seawater was the only source of salt, harvested from salt pans. This salt will be in clumps and cleaned to get rock salt, the basic stuff. This can be powdered for various needs.

Later, chemically produced sodium chloride as a fine powder became available, which is now more commonly used. Himalayan mineral salt is supposed to be a natural salt and is now getting popular.

In the 1980s, the government suddenly woke up to iodine deficiency in the population and made it mandatory to sell only iodine-fortified salt. Dietitians and the medical fraternity came out against it, and hence some leniency has been restored.

I should also tell you that “saltiness” of each salt varies.

Next, I come to the second part of the phrase, “to taste”.

To whose taste? Should we say, each one to his own taste? We know that tastes differ, and how! For an individual, the taste can be his or her own. When cooking for a larger group, the taste has to be universal. It is safe to keep to lower levels and allow people to add salt at the table. Hence the term “table salt” perhaps, as it should be a fine powder to mix easily with the cooked food. Further, people of different health conditions may need less or more salt. For example, patients with hypertension require less.

But still how much is salt to taste? Actually, I have no definite answer. I would say, “Divide the dish into four imaginary portions, sprinkle a little salt into each portion, mix well, cook for a few minutes, mix well again and taste a spoon of the dish, then add a little more, if required. That is to your taste.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 12:06:46 PM |

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