Are you puzzled, wondering if salt is just a seasoning? You’re not alone!
Salt, an omnipresent culinary companion, has perplexed home cooks and food enthusiasts alike with this question for centuries. In this intriguing blog post, we’ll dive into the world of salt, resolve this mystery and explore its culinary usage.
So buckle up and prepare for a fascinating journey of finding the answer to the burning question: is salt a seasoning?
Quick Answer to “Is Salt a Seasoning?”
Where would we be without salt?James Beard
Yes, salt is a seasoning, and it’s one of the primary seasonings among other seasoning types like acid, sugar, pepper, herbs, and spices.
But it’s also worth knowing that:
- What type of seasoning is salt?
- How does its role as a seasoning vary according to salt type? And,
- How does it affect the overall flavor profile of your dish?
So, please keep on reading this salty blog post.
What’s a Seasoning and its Role in Your Recipes?
To address the question, knowing what makes up a seasoning is essential.
Seasonings are substances added to food in small quantities to enhance or alter its taste. This broad category includes a hundred ingredients, like:
In short, any ingredient used in small quantities to modify the flavor profile of a dish can be a seasoning.
The primary role of seasonings in cooking is to enhance the flavor, aroma, and appearance of your food. You can use seasonings to:
- Boost the natural flavors of ingredients;
- Add complexity and depth to a dish;
- Create a unique and enjoyable eating experience.
- Add visual appeal to food by adding color or texture to a dish;
- Balance flavors in a dish by adding sweetness, saltiness, acidity, or bitterness, which counteracts other overpowering or unpleasant flavors that may be overpowering or unpleasant.
How Many Primary Types of Seasonings are there?
There are 6 primary types of seasonings. They have their specific role in enhancing the flavor of your food.
Though not all seasonings are essential, salt and sweeteners must-have seasonings, the former is necessary for savory dishes, while sweetener is crucial for dessert or other sweet recipes.
Minerals used as seasonings affect the taste, aroma, and even the nutritional value of your dishes to the greatest degree. Some of the most common mineral seasonings are salts, which have sodium chloride as the main compound. Some popular mineral seasonings are:
- Simple Sodium chloride, also known as table salt.
- Sea salt is a combination of minerals like sodium chloride, magnesium, calcium, and potassium.
- Himalayan pink salt is a rich composite of sodium chloride and iron oxide
- Black salt, or Kala Namak, is a unique fusion of iron and other trace minerals in the primary ingredient of Himalayan pink salt.
- Smoked salt, created by smoking sea salt over wood fires to infuse a smoky flavor and aroma into the crystals.
- Sel Gris (Gray Salt), harvested from the clay-lined salt ponds in the Guérande region of France.
- Hawaiian salt, a volcano-colored salt, is a sea salt mixed with red clay.
- Potassium Chloride salt, very similar to sodium chloride salt; the primary sources of this salt are old dried lakes.
- Calcium chloride salt, an excellent substitute for sodium chloride base salts. It better helps with the preservation of foods.
Herbs are also a seasoning in cooking. Depending on the herb type, they can add pretty complex flavors to a dish. They’re typically the leaves, stems, or flowers of plants, used fresh or dried.
As a seasoning, you can use herbs in many ways:
- Add directly to dishes during cooking or use as a garnish.
- Add to your marinades, dressings, and sauces.
- Use them as rubs to add flavor to meats and vegetables.
- Use them to infuse oil, vinegar, and butter to create flavored condiments.
Spices are seasonings sourced from plants. They can add depth and complexity to a dish.
Spices are plants’ seeds, fruits, roots, or bark and are used for their aromatic and flavorful qualities.
Just like herbs, you can use spices:
- As marinades, rubs, and dry spice blend to add flavor to meats, vegetables, and grains
- To boost the flavor of sauces, soups, and stews.
- Using spices like cinnamon sticks, fennel seeds, cloves, and cardamons to add flavor and aroma to desserts and baked goods.
Acid is also one of the most common types of seasoning used in cooking for adding a tangy or sour flavor to dishes. Some common culinary acids include vinegar, citrus juices (such as lemon or lime juice), and wine.
Some common uses of acid in cooking include:
- Adding some vinegar or citrus juice to salads to enhance their flavor and freshness.
- Using acid to balance out flavors in a dish
- To add brightness and freshness
- To enhance the flavor of stews
- To tenderize meat
- Preventing the growth of bacteria in food
However, just like any other seasoning, you must use acid in moderation, as it can overpower other dishes’ flavors.
Sweeteners are a type of seasoning that adds sweetness to your dishes. Common sweeteners include sugar (its substitutes), honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar.
Some everyday uses of sweeteners in cooking include:
- As preservatives because of humectants and antimicrobial properties
- Helping to sweeten desserts and baked goods
- To balance out sour or bitter flavors in a dish or add flavor to marinades or glazes.
- Adding sugar or honey to baked goods, such as cakes and cookies, to enhance their sweetness and flavor.
- Using sweeteners like maple syrup, glucose, or honey as a glaze on baked items.
Often underestimated, excellent use of oils is as seasoning.
Oils are used as seasonings in many cuisines worldwide, like:
- Herb and spice-infused oils add a subtle yet distinct flavor to dishes, like salads, pasta dishes, and marinades, and as a finishing oil.
- As dressings and marinades
- Drizzling oils add flavor to soups, salads, grilled meats, and vegetables.
- Cooking oil, besides serving for cooking purposes, adds flavor to dishes as they are being cooked.
Hence, oils serve as seasonings in many ways, from infused and dressings to drizzling and cooking oils.
So, Is Salt a Seasoning?
Considering salt’s role in your foods and recipes as a flavor enhancer, it’s fairly safe to say that salt is a seasoning.
It is an incredible catalyst to elevate your food flavors to the next level. For some dishes like stews, BBQ, or rice dishes, it’s an inescapable ingredient. While in some other recipes, like sauces and salads, it adds a complimentary flavor.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that salt is the only seasoning you must have in your kitchen.
What type of seasoning is salt?
No matter what edible salt you use, it’s a mineral seasoning primarily composed of sodium chloride (NaCl). Some of the less common edible/culinary salts are potassium chloride or calcium shoulder. These salts act as flavor enhancers, flavor-balancing agents, tenderizers, or preservatives.
What’s the Role of Salt in Cooking as a Seasoning?
Salt, or sodium chloride (NaCl), is critical in many physiological processes, such as maintaining fluid balance and muscle function and supporting nerve impulse transmission.
But for taste and preservative qualities, salt serves hundreds of purposes in the culinary world:
Salt acts as a flavor enhancer in food. It activates the taste receptors on your tongue that make food taste savory, sweet, or bitter. Salt prompts the perception of the umami flavor associated with meats, cheeses, and fermented foods.
Salt interacts with your recipe’s other flavors and ingredients to strengthen different flavors.
Salt also helps to dominate unpleasant or bitter flavors in food by blocking specific taste receptors on your tongue. It’s the reason that people add some salt to bitter vegetables like kale or broccoli.
Hence, salt has a remarkable ability to enhance the flavors of food.
What are Other Roles of Salt in Your Foods and Recipes?
Other than serving as a taste booster in your food, salt works in two ways, basically. Below are the details:
As a preservative
As a preservative, salt works in two ways:
- First, it draws out moisture from the food. Ultimately, it becomes difficult for bacteria to survive and multiply in less humid food.
- Second, it works as a hypertonic solution creating a high-salt concentration environment. This hypertonic solution draws water out of the bacteria cells, which shrinks and makes them dead. Thus salt helps to prevent spoilage and extend the shelf life of the food.
It’s why you can find salt in many preserved meats and fish.
As Texture Modifier
Salt can modify the texture of food or recipe in a few different ways, depending on the type of food and how salt is used. Here are some examples:
- Salt can tenderize meat by denaturing the protein, which lets meat absorb more water.
- Salt can alter the texture of vegetables by drawing out moisture and making them softer. You can cook or saute these veggies quickly.
- It can alter the texture of baked goods by strengthening the gluten network.
- Salt also controls the fermentation process during baking.
- Since salt controls the moisture ratio in foods, it helps prevent an overlapping cheese texture. Besides this, it also helps to preserve the cheese.
In a nutshell, salt can play a key role in modifying the texture of food and recipes.
What are the Varieties of Salt Seasoning and Their Uses?
The world of salt seasoning is not restricted to simple “sodium chloride.” Instead, it’s vast and diverse–each variety has unique characteristics.
To understand the role of these salts as a seasoning, we’ve discussed the following:
1. Table salt with a slightly metallic flavor
Often known as fine salt, this finely ground salt is your regular table salt. It primarily comprises a naturally occurring mineral compound, sodium chloride (NaCl). Other than sodium chloride, table salt can also have some amounts of other minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium and is fortified with iodine. In addition to these, it may also have anti-caking agents to prevent clumping.
2. Sea salt with a briny flavor
Evaporated seawater is the source of sea salt of this minimally processed salt type. Sea salt boasts a coarser texture in your recipes and adds a more complex flavor profile–thanks to its briny flavor. It may also have trace amounts of minerals like magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
More interestingly, depending on its sourcing region and processing, sea salt has many colors, like white, gray, or pink. Like varying colors, sea salts have different textures, like fine, powdery, or coarse and chunky.
Sea salt is a flavoring agent in cooking and imparts a subtle briny flavor to dishes. Like table salt, you can use it as finishing salt by sprinkling it on top of the dishes to add a touch of texture and flavor right before serving them.
3. Kosher salt–pure and clean flavor
Not necessarily “kosher,” characterized by its large, flaky crystals, kosher salt has a clean taste. Cooks and chefs love it for its flavor and ease of use.
It’s commonly used in koshering meat and other foods as it fits Jewish dietary laws. Following are the few distinctive characteristics of Kosher salt:
- More fine-grains
- Heavily processed
- Coarse grains
- A pure, clean taste
- No common additives like chloride
Yes, it’s sodium chloride with a few minerals like potassium and calcium.
Please remember that kosher salt doesn’t necessarily have to be certified as “kosher salt.” Yet, it simply means that the salt is used in the koshering process– to draw blood from meat as directed by Jewish dietary laws.
4. Himalayan pink salt with an earthy flavor
Considered the healthiest salt, Himalayan pink salt is harvested from the Khewra Salt Mine in Pakistan. This salt has a unique crystal-like pink hue and earthy flavor, thanks to trace minerals like iron and magnesium. Besides sodium chloride as the main constituent, it has calcium as well.
Himalayan pink salt is the most common seasoning in Pakistani cuisine. Because of its pink color, it also serves a decorative purpose. It’s expensive, but its worldwide use is also common.
Apart from seasoning intent, it’s also used in various spa treatments and as a natural ingredient in skincare products.
5. Black salt with sulfur flavor
Black salt (Kala Namak or sulfur salt) is rock salt used in South Asian cuisine, particularly in India, Pakistan, and Nepal. It has a distinct sulfurous aroma and flavor.
Sodium chloride is the primary compound in black salt. Yet, it has trace amounts of iron, magnesium, calcium, and several sulfurous compounds, e.g., hydrogen sulfide. These minerals give them a distinctive smell and taste.
Black salt has diverse uses:
- In vegan and vegetarian cooking, substitute for eggs
- It adds a savory and slightly aromatic flavor to many traditional dishes in South Asian cuisine, such as chaat, chutneys, and raitas.
- It’s used in Ayurvedic medicine as a digestive aid and to help ease heartburn and indigestion.
6. Hawaiian salt with a strong Earthy flavor
Hawaiian salt is a specialty salt used in Hawaiian cuisine. The mix of reddish-brown volcanic clay called ALAEA in sea salt gives this salt a unique color. This clay is mixed in sea salt.
Its earthy color and aroma make it a preferable choice in Hawaiian culture; for example:
- It serves ceremonial purposes in traditional Hawaiian culture, like blessing food and offerings to the gods.
- It preserves food, as it draws out moisture from food and prevents spoilage.
- Hawaiian salt adds taste to various dishes, e.g., poke (a raw fish salad), kalua, and Hawaiian-style grilled or roasted meats.
- It’s also a popular finishing salt sprinkled on top of dishes when serving.
7. MSG with umami flavor
MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a flavor enhancer salt used in many processed foods, frozen dinners, and Asian recipes. It’s not sodium chloride, but the sodium salt of glutamic acid (naturally occurring amino acid found in many foods like meat, fish, and vegetables).
MSG salt is produced through a fermentation process. The bacteria Corynebacterium glutamicum helps ferment by converting sugars and other substances into glutamic acid. The resulting glutamic acid is then combined with sodium to create monosodium glutamate.
When you add MSG to foods, it stimulates your taste buds and enhances the savory umami taste.
Though the use of MSG has been controversial, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes MSG as safe (GRAS) for use as a food ingredient.
8. Potassium chloride salt
Potassium chloride is a culinary salt used as a salt substitute. There are a few characteristics that make it a sodium chloride salt alternative:
- Like sodium chloride, it’s a naturally occurring mineral.
- It’s like sodium chloride in terms of taste and appearance.
- It makes the best alternative seasoning for sodium-sensitive people or those with high blood pressure.
- It can be used the same way as table salt for seasoning food during cooking or at the table.
However, too much potassium chloride can cause a bitter or metallic taste, so it is essential to use it in moderation.
What type of salt makes the best seasoning?
The selection of salt as a seasoning depends on your preference and the type of recipe. However, here are some of my most favored salts:
- Sea Salt
- Himalayan Pink Salt
- Celtic Sea Salt
- Kosher Salt
What type of salt doesn’t make a good seasoning?
Seasoning salts usually have herbs, spices, artificial flavors, and additives. These additives affect your health negatively when consumed in excess. Here is a list of such seasonings:
- Salt with high sodium content can lead to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Seasoned salt with MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a flavor enhancer that can cause headaches, nausea, and other adverse reactions in some people.
- Seasoned salt with artificial flavors and additives like high fructose corn syrup has been linked to obesity and other health issues.
So, opting for natural seasoning alternatives like herbs and spices is best. Please check your seasoning label for sodium content and additives.
Why is adding salt and pepper to a food called seasoning?
The word “seasoning” comes from the Old French word “seasoner,” which means “to ripen” or “to give flavor.” It’s also related to the Latin word “sationem,” meaning “a sowing” or “a planting.”
So, metaphorically “seasoning” means “ripening” or “planting” flavors into a dish, enhancing its taste and making it more enjoyable to eat.
The phrase “adding salt and pepper” is commonly associated with seasoning because salt and pepper are two of the most widely used basic seasonings, which pair together well to give your dishes a complex flavor.
Salt is undoubtedly a mineral seasoning. As a versatile and essential ingredient, it has earned its place as a staple in kitchens around the globe. Understanding the different types of salt and their unique properties can help both professional chefs and home cooks create dishes that are not only delicious but also well-balanced in flavor.