Shaking Out the Best Salts for Health

By Ila Bonczek | September 13, 2021
Ila lives in the Garden State with her family and four chickens. She has been growing produce and perennials for 20 years, and recommends gardening for food and fun, but not for fortune.
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The delicate pink color of Bolivian rose salt comes from trace amounts of iron. While similar in color and mineral content to Himalayan pink salt, Bolivian rose salt is hand harvested from the Andes Mountain range in Bolivia, where ancient sea salt deposits were covered with volcanic lava, creating a high mineral salt with its own distinct mild flavor. (Image: Ivar Leidus via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Salt, or sodium chloride (NaCl), is an essential nutrient necessary for keeping our bodies in working order. A small amount daily helps to cleanse our cells, maintain a balance of fluid, regulate the circulatory system, and maintain proper muscle and nerve impulses. 

Rock salt, or halite, usually comes from underground salt mines, deposited long ago by evaporating sea beds. In its natural form, it is coarse and full of minerals, and we use it to keep our roadways ice-free and safe. 

Through extensive processing, this rock salt can then become “table salt.”  Heating it to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit removes impurities, including 80 percent of its naturally occurring trace elements. Iodine and anti-caking agents are commonly added to make the product more useful and practical. 

While table salt is by far the most commonly used culinary salt, it may not be the most nutritious. Some suggest that this highly refined substance is harmful to the body, and health authorities have put a limit on salt intake. Many believe that the minerals removed from table salt have numerous health benefits, and opt for the more natural, and less refined sea salt.

Benefits of sea salt

Sea salt is mainly derived from the evaporated salt water of oceans or salt lakes. This salt is naturally of a finer texture than rock salt. It is minimally refined, retaining its many trace elements, which give it its characteristic flavor and color and bring numerous health benefits to your table.

We are, perhaps, all aware of the benefits of salt water. Throughout history, many cultures have found that salt baths are purifying and rejuvenating, but how many have considered the benefits of consuming this nutrient rich mineral? 

It has been found that the trace elements iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc often present in sea salt all help boost our immunity against allergy, cold, fever, and flu. 

Salt wells, or traps, carved into lava rock in Honaunau, Hawaii are used to collect salt from evaporated sea water. The dark colors available in Hawaiian salts are achieved through adding natural enhancers, such as volcanic clay, or activated charcoal. (Image: Lindley Rabin via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Unlike table salt, sea salt appears to be good for the heart, as it does not increase blood pressure, reduces hypertension, and offers potassium, which is instrumental in maintaining a normal heartbeat.

The anti-inflammatory properties that make salt baths so soothing carry through internally, as well. Including sea salt in your diet can be effective in reducing pain and inflammation from arthritis, and also improve respiratory health, helping to clear phlegm and relieve sore throat, congestion, and even asthma.

Digestion is also enhanced with the use of sea salt. It not only stimulates the taste buds to secrete salivary amylase, which begins breaking down carbohydrates; it also stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which aids in digestion, thereby reducing bloating, stomach cramps, abdominal distention and heartburn. 

Sea salt can also help reduce anxiety and stress. Its adaptogenic and sedative properties play an important role in regulating serotonin and melatonin, hormones responsible for relaxation. 

Types of sea salt

Because sea salt gets many of its properties from the surrounding soils, it is highly variable, depending on where it is sourced. The whiter sea salts are harvested from the surface of salt ponds, while darker varieties are harvested from the bottom and have higher concentration of minerals and soil particles. A look at all the gourmet qualities of the many varieties available would be a lengthy discussion, so we will look at a few of the most popular sea salts.

Interior view of a Himalayan pink salt mine in Khewra, Pakistan, where the salt is mined in large translucent blocks. While Himalayan pink salt is currently found on just 0.2% of menus all over the world, its presence has increased by 119.9% over the past four years, according to market research firm Datassential. (Image: Muhammad Dawood Hashmi via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Himalayan pink salt

While this salt is harvested from salt mines in the Himalayan Mountains, it is still classified as a sea salt, as the caves where it is found were once submerged under the ocean in what is now Pakistan.

It is one of the purest salts in the world, consisting of 98 percent natural sodium chloride. Some 80 trace elements and minerals make up the rest, giving this salt a delicate pink color and mildly sweet flavor. 

Because it is mined like rock salt, it can come in large crystals, which are often made into lamps, candle holders, or even embedded into walls. These are said to be good air purifiers, reducing mold and allergens, while rendering a calming effect in the room.

Celtic sea salt

Genuine Celtic sea salt is harvested through evaporation and sun drying of water from the Celtic Sea off the coast of France. After sinking, salt crystals are raked from the bottom of tidal ponds. 

This sel gris, or “grey salt” is known for retaining moisture and has a clumpy tendency. Like most sea salts, it is a good source of many minerals important for optimal health. It’s briny flavor is especially nice with meat and fish, but it is also suitable for general cooking, baking, and finishing.

Thin flakes of flor de sal, (fleur de sel) are painstakingly harvested using traditional tools like this fine sieve. (Image: ArtSal via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Fleur de sel

Fleur de sel, or “flower of salt” may be the most expensive salt in the world due to its exacting harvesting process. Ultra-thin crystals are carefully collected from the surface of tidal pools in Brittany, France. The weather conditions must be optimal: sunny and dry with a slight breeze; and the work is done with traditional wooden rakes. At $16 a pound, it is often called the “caviar of salts.” 

This light and flaky salt also retains moisture, and has a bluish tint due to its oceanic origins. Because of its relatively high cost, it is mainly reserved for finishing purposes, adding a special briny flavor to main dishes, sides, and even desserts.

Iodine

While some sea salts do contain trace amounts of iodine, they are not generally considered a source of this essential nutrient. Consuming seafood, seaweed, or dairy products will ensure that you have sufficient quantities for a healthy thyroid, even if you don’t consume any table salt.