Let's talk about... Salt

Let's talk about... Salt

A welcome addition to the kitchen or a fast track way to end up with health problems?

It is Salt Awareness week in the UK and those tiny grains of evaporated seawater certainly can turn into a contentious topic. We're told that we should all cut down on our salt consumption – I can't remember the last time I saw salt on a table at dinner - but it is an undeniable necessity if you want to create a delicious dish from scratch; the Great British Chefs website says “A kitchen without salt, is a kitchen without flavour”. Even the Spice Pots team are divided... some of us probably a little liberal in our pinches and others with a scant sprinkling. So what are we to do?

East Lothian has a well seasoned history, with one side of our county being lapped by the Firth of Forth and the other braving the waves of the North Sea, it became a perfect home for the salt industry. In fact, Prestonpans was previously called Preston Salt – then changed to its current name as a nod to the monks who used pans on the seashore to collect seawater. The seawater was then evaporated to leave behind salt crystals, and this traditional way is still used to produce what some would call the posh sea salt flakes available today, such as Maldon – a staple in our cupboard for sure.

In terms of cooking with salt, the big question is – when should we add it and how much? Traditionally, it was always the case to add salt in the early stages but why? Cooks Illustrated looked at the science behind this and found that salt takes time to work it's way into ingredients and adding at the start means your dish will be well seasoned all the way through – not just as a last minute coating that will be the first thing that hits your tastebuds. In terms of amount, The Kitchn recommends adding small amounts at a time and taste, taste, taste! Salt definitely helps to intensify each of the flavours in a dish – and slow and steady wins the race for a well seasoned dish, while ensuring you stop before you oversalt and ruin all your hard work.

But hang on! How about all the bad things we hear about salt? The biggest worry is raised blood pressure, resulting in an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. So should we just get used to bland food and look forward to adding, slightly unpalatable, years to our life? Michael Mosley, the doctor devoted to exposing the truth on his program Trust Me, I'm A Doctor, looked into this very issue. The UK recommendation is to limit salt to 6g (or a teaspoon) per day but he cited studies that found that anything below 7g of salt didn't seem to provide any additional benefits, and there was in fact one American study where evidence pointed to a small rise in cholesterol and fats implicated in heart disease. His final conclusion was the sensible one and one that can be used for any health debate be it cholesterol, fats or sugars – moderation is key.

And going hand in hand with moderation? Having more control over your salt consumption with home cooked meals. Placing your daily ration in the hands of big manufacturers means it's gone before you've even grabbed a mid-morning coffee – bread and cereals are one of the biggest sources of salt. Luckily our Spice Pots curry powders are salt (and sugar) free, while other curry spices and Indian cooking kits can often contain quite a bit of salt. Making it not only easy to season your curries to your own liking, but also giving you piece of mind on the health front. The absolutely top benefit being your smug face when you whip up a really yummy and quick, home cooked curry. Who wins? Everyone!

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