We cannot overstate the importance of salt in our lives. It is not just important for seasoning our meals but also for our overall health. Any meal without salt is bland and incomplete. It is also a vital nutrient for the human body and without it, many body functions cannot work properly.
You all know that salt enhances the flavor of every dish but you might not know how salt works, exactly? And What are the functions of salt in food? To answer these questions, we have come up with this article. We hope by the end of this article you will get all the answers to your questions.
Salt and Its Characteristics
Salt is a natural mineral mostly obtained from two sources. Through seawater evaporation and salt mines that are also formed by the evaporation of ancient oceans. Salt is available in different types based on its source and method of extraction. Different regions impact the overall mineral composition, color, and characteristics of different salts.
Some of the most common salts are table salt, sea salt, Himalayan rock salt, black salt, Celtic sea salt, red salt, kosher salt, and lava salt. Some of the salts are edible while some are good for skincare and wellness purposes. All these salts are primarily a compound of sodium and chloride but also contain different minerals and trace elements.
Salt is a necessary nutrient in maintaining health. It is an easy source of required sodium in the human diet. Sodium is important for the proper functioning of nerves and muscles. It also regulates fluid balance in the human body. You will definitely find any type of salt in almost every household. Let’s see how salt works in cooking your meals.
How Does Salt Work?
Salt not just adds saltiness to the food but also makes the flavor of food more refined and detectable. It enhances the flavor of all the other ingredients and makes them tastier. There are 5 flavors of food and salt works equally well with all these flavors.
When you add it to desserts, it improves the sweetness by adding the salty kick to the dessert. It also cuts the bitterness of different foods. For instance, when you add it to the coffee, it brings out the sweetness of coffee beans by reducing their bitterness. Many people add a pinch of salt to the coffee grounds before brewing.
You just need to salt the foods at the right time so that you get an even flavor. It is recommended to add salt gradually so that you don’t over-salt the dishes and all the ingredients get enough time to absorb it.
Functions Of Salt In Food
Salt is more than just a flavor enhancer. Let’s see what functions salt plays in food.
Salt – A Preservative
Salt is one of the oldest and most well-known food preservatives. People have been using it for centuries to preserve different foods such as meat, fish, vegetables, and sauces. It is also used in the production of preserved foods and fermented vegetables which is why these foods have high sodium content.
For preservation, salt works by changing the water content of the foods making the microbes deprived of water that they use for growth. Salt has antibacterial properties which help stop the growth of bacteria and protect the food from spoilage.
A Binding Agent
Salt is used as a binding agent in different foods because of its protein gel-forming ability. When you add salt to processed meat, it turns proteins into a gel that helps to bind the meat together and save it from cracking while cooking.
You must be wondering how processed foods like corn, ham, sausage, etc., have such a vibrant color just like fresh food. Well, it is partially because of the salt. Salt stops the food from turning muddy and maintains its color. Many chefs also use salt to give their bread crust a caramelized effect and golden color
Salt is undoubtedly the best flavor improver. Salt makes food taste better because of its amazing ability to balance all the five flavors: sweet, sour, umami, bitter, and salty. When used in low quantities, it reduces the bitterness but increases the sweetness, sourness, and umami flavors. That is why many chefs like to add a pinch of salt to their deserts to enhance the flavor.
In the case of savory dishes, a little high quantity of salt is added as it represses the sweetness and increases the umami flavor. Salt brings out the flavor when used in combination with other spices and herbs. It gives more dimension to the flavor and aroma of the dishes. You should always add salt to taste because every taste bud likes a different amount of salt.
Salt acts as a texture improver by changing the structure of protein and its interaction with other components such as water and fat, which affects the texture of food.
When you add salt to bread dough, it strengthens the gluten and provides uniform texture and expansion of dough without breaking. Salt makes the cured meats tender and juicer and gives them a firm texture by boosting the binding of moisture with protein. So, by adding a recommended quantity of salt, you can make meat tender, bread fluffy, and cheese elastic.
Used As A Finishing Salt
There is a category of salt that is used as finishing salt to enhance the garnish of prepared dishes. These finishing salts are added to give a final touch to the dish. Mostly kosher salt, Himalayan pink salt, and sea salt are used as finishing salt. Pink salt crystals have a very beautiful pink color with orange hues that look great on top of soups, steaks, and desserts. Just sprinkle them on your dishes to add texture and flavor.
Now, you know how salt works in making your food tastier and more palatable not just in terms of taste but also in color and texture. So, use it in the best possible way to get all the benefits.