Salt is a mineral that has more than 14000 uses. This is by far the greatest number of uses any mineral is known to have. It would not be wrong to say that our lives are dependent upon salt. It is essential for the proper functioning of the vital body organs. Our bodies cannot produce salt; it needs to be ingested into our bodies. Since we can choose which type of salt to use, why not go for something that is pure, natural and promises great benefits?
Today’s markets are full of all sorts of salts, each one promising to be the best. Himalayan salt is known to be the purest salt on Earth as it is hand-extracted from the Khewra salt mines. These salt mines are located in the Himalayan mountain ranges that fall in Punjab, a province of Pakistan.
Introduction To Salt For Preserving Food:
Preservation of food has been a common practice since ancient times. Along with preservation methods like smoking and sun-drying, salt preservation has also been a common practice. People used to preserve foods that would last them through tough times like drought, extreme weather, war, and travel. It would have been very difficult to live in the absence of food preservation methods.
Let us discuss in detail about the salt food preservation method and take a look at some other common preservation methods.
How Does Salt Preservation Work?
- Dries the food: Salt draws out water from food and leaves it dry. Moisture is essential for the growth of all living organisms including bacteria. Bacteria are responsible for the spoiling of food and causing food poisoning.
- Kills microbes: Salt can kill almost all microbes. In the case of high salt toxicity, osmolarity takes place. Water diffuses between the cell membranes to keep a balanced concentration of the solute at both sides of the cell. In a high salt scenario, the microbes rupture due to the difference in pressure between the two sides of the organism. High salt is also lethal for the internal processes of the microbes as it messes up with the DNA and enzymes.
Different Food Preservation Methods:
You must have seen shelves of superstores lined up with foods with the shelf-life that extends longer than naturally possible. These foods are preserved to last longer. There is more than one method of preserving food and each method is suitable for certain types of foods and circumstances like weather conditions, shelf life, etc.
One thing that is common in all the preservation methods is that they all target at killing existing microbic organisms and inhibiting their growth. Zero bacteria mean no spoiling of food.
Some of the most common food preservation methods are canning, freezing, pickling, smoking, etc. Keep reading to know more about each method.
Canning is the preservation method that involves heating the food-filled and canned jars to eliminate any chances of food spoilage. During this process, heat kills unwanted microorganisms from the food. A vacuum is then formed as the food cools and jars seal which ensures that these menace-making microorganisms will not spoil the food.
Canning as approved safe by the USDA are of two types:
- Water-bath canning
- Pressure canning
Smoking is the food preservation process that involves slow cooking of food along with the application of salt or sugar which inhibits microbial growth.
- This process works in three ways; dehydrates the food which ensures there is no moisture to encourage any bacterial growth, application of sugar or salt works as a preservative, and heat kills all the existing bacteria. To top this all up, smoking gives a distinct flavor to the food which makes it all the tastier. There are two types of smoking processes:
- Cold smoking: this is a long and thorough process and ensures that the food stays unspoiled for weeks. The food is dipped in the brine solution, dried, rubbed with olive oil and then smoked for 6 hours in a cold smoking situation (40-50) degrees Celsius.
Hot smoking: this involves cooking the food in a heated area (65-90) degrees Celsius.
Freezing food preservation is a method that involves preparing, packing and freezing the food when it is at the peak of its freshness. The key to the proper freezing technique is to make sure that the food is fresh, freeze it as quickly as possible and keep it frozen at the lowest temperature(0 degrees).
It is very necessary to take care of the proper packaging of the food when freezing. Use freezer bags and containers in order to avoid any deterioration in the taste. Food loses its flavor when it comes in direct contact with the air inside the freezer. Although this does not make the food harmful, it loses its flavor. You can follow these steps to avoid freezer burning of your food:
- Wrap your food tightly so that it does not get exposed to the freezer air.
- Avoid fluctuation of temperature. Do not keep the freezer door open for too long.
- Enable proper air circulation inside the freezer by filling it wisely. Overfilling obstructs air circulation.
This process involves soaking the food in salt or vinegar or both to make it last for several weeks. This method was first used to take food on long journeys like sea travel.
Nowadays, people pickle foods because of their liking for the taste that is produced. If the food is moist enough, only rubbing salt on it will produce a brine solution. Unlike the process of canning, pickling does not require sterilizing of the food. The acidity or salinity produced because of salt and vinegar is sufficient to inhibit the growth of bacteria.
Some common examples of pickled foods are sauerkraut, kimchi, gherkins, and salsa. Fruits are also pickled in high-sugar or flavored solutions like cinnamon, dill seed or mustard.
5. Sugaring Preservation:
Preservation by sugar is a very old method of preserving food. It works on the same principle of osmosis which inhibits the survival and growth of microorganisms by drawing the water out of its membranes. There are different ways of using sugar or food preservation.
- Fruits are desiccated by drying and then packing them with sugar.
- Fruits are cooked at high heat in sugar.
- Fruits are cooked to removes excess water and then cooked in sugar.
- Fruits are cooked in a solution of alcohol and sugar.
- Sugar is used with salt for the preservation of foods.
Drying of the food for preservation involves heating the food at a temperature that is high enough to dry out the moisture but low enough not to cook the food. Drying or dehydrating the food retains all the nutrients while substantially reducing its weight.
An electric dehydrator is an excellent equipment for drying the foods. It comes with a thermostat and a built-in fan to assist even the circulation of air. If you do not have a dehydrator, you can dry food under the sun but this is a long process and does not promise excellent results.
Dry Salting Of Food:
This method of drying food is basically a fermentation process in which thin strips of meat or vegetables are covered with dry salt to draw out water. The strips are then pounded to further break the cell walls and release juices that would submerge the food strips in the resulted brine.
Sauerkraut is an example of dry salting. Cabbage is cut into thin strips, salted, pounded and then tightly packed enabling juices to release and produce a brine solution.
Dry salting fish and salting meat often called curing is a common practice. Thin strips of meat and fish are dry salted and then sometimes smoked to give it an extraordinary flavor. This method often involves the addition of nitrites and nitrates which helps in the curing of meat. Curing lets the meat stay safe for use for a long time and induces flavor in it.
Advantages Of Food Preservation:
Some advantages of salting food preservation are:
- It is an effective and inexpensive way of keeping food unspoiled for a longer period.
- It does not require refrigeration of the food.
- Salting does not destroy the nutrients present in the food.
- Preserves food that can be used in tough times like extreme weather, wars, long journey, drought, etc.
- Gives food a salty flavor which gives it another flavorful dimension.
Using salt for the preservation of food dates back to ancient times. This establishes the utmost importance of salt in our lives. Since salt is beneficial for human health, it is wise to use the salt which is purest and contains a good number of beneficial minerals.