best natural foods

Kosher salt - gourmet but not healthy

Among the many types of gourmet salts, Kosher salt is probably the most commonly mentioned. Often enough, I see it recommended by chefs and cookbook writers, so I feel it deserves a closer look.

First, to clear some confusion... The word "kosher" usually refers to food that is prepared according to guidelines spelled out in the Jewish holy book, The Torah.

So kosher usually refers to food that is suitable for consumption by Jews, just as Halal refers to food suitable for Muslims.

Kosher salt does not refer to salt made in accordance with kosher guidelines. Nearly all salt is kosher anyway. To avoid this confusion, some companies use the term kosher-certified salt to refer to salt that is certified to kosher standards by a religious body.

Kosher salt is actually the short name for "koshering salt", This name was given because it is the type of salt usually used for treating meat, to prepare meat according to kosher guidelines.

Shape of salt crystals

The main difference between regular salt and Kosher or koshering salt is the shape of the salt crystals. Regular, refined salt usually comes in the form of tiny globes or balls. Unrefined natural sea salt, or crushed rock salt, on the other hand, may come as irregular grains, like grains of sand.

Kosher or koshering salt, however, has a special shape. The salt crystals are larger than refined salt crystals, and they are flat. It is this special shape that makes the salt particularly suitable for koshering meat.

The special shape also gives the salt a crunchy texture when it is sprinkled over food. And this is why some chefs like it and recommend it.

BUT... this is not how salt should be eaten. Traditionally, salt is always cooked together with food rather than sprinkled on top of food after it has been cooked. As explained in my article about salt and high blood pressure, the correct use of salt - that is, cooking it together with food - is one of the keys to avoiding health issues such as hypertension.

Natural vs refined salt

Another key to healthy eating is to use natural sea salt, or other types of natural salts such as lake salt or rock salt.

Here again, Kosher or koshering salt does not meet up to health standards. It is refined salt consisting of almost pure (99.9 percent) sodium chloride. Like all other types of refined salt, it lacks other minerals and trace elements - potassium, magnesium, mangenese, etc, more than 80 different elements - that are vital to health.

Compared to table salt, however, this salt is usually one notch healtheir because table salt contains chemical additives that act as anti-caking agents, whereas most Kosher salt is just pure salt, without chemical additives. There are exceptions, however, and some brands do contain additives.

Being pure also means that the salt is usually not iodized; it has no added iodine. As we see in the discussion about iodized salt, iodine is vital to health and iodine deficiency can lead to serious problems such as physical and mental retardation. So those who use mainly or exclusively Kosher salt need to ensure adequate iodine intake from other food sources, such as seaweeds.

My advice is NOT to use this salt, except maybe as an occasional treat when you want to prepare a dish with that special texture. It is a gourmet salt and should be treated as such, not for regular, daily use.

Click here to learn about healthier alternatives to Kosher salt.

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