best natural foods

Himalayan pink salt - scam or good deal?

The salt I currently use is Himalayan pink salt, a type of rock salt from Pakistan. From being virtually unknown, this salt suddenly became highly popular in recent years.

The ridiculously high price of this salt suggests that it could be part of a health scam devised by companies out to make a fast buck. I read that it is sold in parts of Europe for as much as 24 Euros per kilo, whcih is up to 200 times the price of regular salt.

The salt comes from the Khewra Salt Mines in Punjab, Pakistan, about 300 km from the Himalayas. This is the second largest salt mine in the world. It has about 220 million tons of salt deposits and annual production is about 465,000 tons. Pakistan being a low-cost country, there is no reason for Himalayan pink salt to be costly.

Have I fallen for the scam? Am I perpetuating it?

I hope not. So let me state clearly from the start - if you are asked to pay a high price for Himalayan pink salt, forget it. Don't be scammed.

Ironically, the main reason why I use this salt is because it is cheap! In Singapore where I live, a 500 gram packet of Himalayan pink salt costs just over S$2, which makes it one of the cheapest brands of natural sea salt or rock salt available. But... heheh, I buy it in Malaysia where it sells for only RM2.90, which works out to about S$1.20, or just under US$1 (as May 2011 currency exchange rates.)

If this salt costs big money in your country, then you will need to think carefully. It is a good salt and may still be cheaper than other types of natural salt, such as Celtic sea salt. So you decide what price is fair.

What's good about Himalayan pink salt?

Another reason why I use Himalayan pink salt is because of the recommendation of friends - people whose opinions I trust.

There is not a lot of information about this salt and many articles simply explain why it is better than table salt. But the same reasons apply to all types of natural sea salt and natural rock salt. You can learn more from my articles about sea salt vs table salt and the benefits of sea salt.

One report I found refers to a German study that says it contains about 15 different minerals and trace elements. Those who market Himalayan pink salt claim however, that it contains 84 minerals and trace elements. This spectral analysis of Himalayan pink salt suggests that the higher number is probably more accurate.

To be honest, the long list of elements listed in the spectral analysis is quite meaningless to me and I won't be able to tell you how many of those elements might benefit your health. I doubt if any nutritionist or other scientific expert can either. Except for a few, the role of most minerals and trace elements in human health is not well-studied.

However, I think it is fair to assume that these minerals and trace elements are there for a reason and it is beneficial to take salt that contains a wide range of elements, instead of refined table salt which is 99.9 percent pure sodium chloried - plus chemical additives.

Himalayan rock salt

To me, the main benefit of Himalayan pink salt arises from the fact that it is a rock salt. Also known as halite, rock salt deposits were formed by seas and salt-water lakes that dried up hundreds of millions of years ago and Himalayn pink salt is claimed to be about 250 million years old.

Because the salt is so, so old, it is extremely pure, as there was no pollution in the world back then! So you can expect this salt to be extremely clean and pure.

Also, rock salt is generally unprocessed - except for those turned into table salt. Those marketed as natural rock salt are just crushed or grinded into smaller pieces.

In contrast, sea salt needs to be dried from sea water. Some are dried naturally by sunshine and the wind over months and years. Others are dried unnaturally in super-hot kilns with temperatures exceeding 1,200ºC and this high temperature is believed to render the salt harmful. So when buying sea salt, you need to find out exactly how the salt is produced and this information is not always available.

Taste of Himalayan pink salt

The taste is good too. A few times, I have cooked meat or fish seasoned with just Himalayan pink salt and nothing or little else. At most I might add a bit of pepper or, in the case of fish, some ginger juice.

When I cook food this way, I get to taste the salt and it is delicious with complex flavours, not just salty.

You can also taste the salt by putting a small amount on the tip of your tongue.

Fluoride concerns

I should mention one possible concern regarding Himalayan pink salt - its apparently high content of fluorides.

For those not familiar, fluoride is a highly toxic substance that occurs naturally, such as in sea water, in very tiny amounts. It is also added to tap water in a process called fluoridation, which is supposed to help prevent tooth decay. Most toothpaste has added fluoride as well.

Fluoridation is somewhat controversial. Some scientific experts say it offers minimal protection against tooth decay while it produces harmful side effects such as mottled or yellowed teeth, bone disease, Alzheimer's disease, hormonal problems and other issues. Most mainsteam health authorities maintain that fluoridation is safe. However, fluoridation has been discontinued in countries like Finland, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland.

I tend to agree that fluorides are harmful and when I was asked about the high level of fluorides in Himalayan salt, I did not know what to make of it. So I asked my friend Sonja Hardy, an Australian who is an active anti-fluoride campaigner and who also uses Himalayan pink salt. This is her reply:

The natural fluoride in Himalayan pink salt would be safer than the toxic waste product that is usually put into water supplies. However, all types of fluoride accumulate in the body and healthy kidneys eliminate only about half of our daily intake. So even naturally occurring fluoride is dangerous if we consume too much.

But considering that salt is only a small addition to our food, and the fluoride in Himalayan Crystal Salt is considered to be a minor trace element (less than 0.1g per kg), I doubt that it’s a big problem.

Sonja's reply makes sense to me and I am not overly concerned about the presence of fluorides in Himalayan rock salt. Since fluorides are present in sea water, natural sea salt would have fluorides as well, although the amounts would probably be lower than that found in Himalayan rock salt.

If you are concerned, then avoid Himalayan pink salt. There is no need to take it and certainly no need to pay a high price for it. Other types of natural sea salt or natural rock salt are just as healthy.

Alternatively, use a variety. If it is good to eat different types of grains, vegetables, fruits, etc, why not different types of salt?

Other Himalayan salt products

Apart from salt for cooking and food preparation (such as pickling), Himalayan pink salt also comes in the form of various other products like salt lamps and even a salt slab which can be used as a "hot stone" for cooking.

These are interesting and possibly beneficial. There are certainly benefits to breathing salted air, enjoyed by people who live close to the sea. Burning a salt lamp at home could well impart similar benefits.

But these are costly, luxury items. Buy if you fancy them and if you have the money.

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