best natural foods

Celtic and other unrefined sea salt

Natural sea salt may either be fully unrefined sea salt, or partially refined sea salt.

Fully unrefined salt is wet, light grey or light brown in color and has a slight bitter taste. The most wel-known of this type of salt is "Celtic sea salt".

The term actually has different meanings. When written as Celtic Sea saltĀ®, with the registered trade mark symbol, it refers to a brand of salt. Sometimes, however, the term is loosely used to described salt from the Celtic region of Northeast Europe, particularly France.

Celtic sea salt also refers to the special, all-natural method of harvesting salt. The salt is naturally dried (without the use of super hot kilns) ahd harvested by hand using wooden tools as it is believed that metal tools interfere with its taste. Special care is also taken to ensure that the harvesters do not step on the salt, again so as not to interfere with the taste.

Similar products include Brittany sea salt, Fluer de sel (flower of salt), French sea salt, grey salt, etc. These are different types of naturally harvested unrefined sea salt. Each has its specific characteristic, including taste, which would be more of interest to gourmets than ordinary health-conscious folks.

Being gourmet salts, however, they also tend to be rather costly.

Partially refined sea salt

Iodized salt is salt with iodine added. In most cases, it is refined salt with iodine. The iodine helps prevent iodine-deficiency diseases like goitre and cretinism (physical and mental retardation). While this is important, iodized salt is no better than refined salt in other aspects. In some cases, natural sea salt may also be fortified with iodine and it will probably be called iodized sea salt. Click here to learn more about iodine deficiency and iodized salt.

The cheaper type of natural sea salt is white in color, or with a very slight tint of pink, grey or other shade. It is also drier and looks more like refined table salt - except that it may not be super fine and flows super smoothly due to the addition of anti-caking chemicals.

This type of sea salt is partially refined, with mainly the magnesium chloride and other magnesium salts removed. As magnesium chloride is bitter, partially refined sea salt does not have that slight bitter taste found in Celtic sea salt.

Magnesium chloride and other magnesium salts are the first salts to crystalize when sea water is being dried and they are simply removed. The process is still natural as it does not require any chemical or industrial processes.

It is also a traditional process, practised by the Chinese and Japanese for centuries. The Chinse call magnesium chloride lushui while the Japanese call it nigari. They use it as a coagulant for the manufacture of tofu - although modern types of tofu generally use other coagulants such as calcium carbonate.

Partially refined vs unrefined sea salt

Which is better? Totally unrefined sea salt, or partlially refined sea salt?

Most health conscious consumers probably do not even consider this question. They may not even know the difference and would regard salt to be good as long as it is natural - natural sea salt or natural rock salt.

Logically, one might think that 100 percent natural, unrefined salt would be superior to sea salt that has been slightly refined. But is this necessarily so?

One health conscious group that debates this issue are the followers of macrobiotics - because the teachings of macrobiotics emphasize the importance of the quality of salt. But within this group, there is no consensus. Some argue strongly in favor of totally unrefined sea salt while others say we should take partially refined sea salt instead.

Yin and yang of sea salt

The macrobiotic arguments have to do with yin and yang, or expanding and contracting energy.

Salt is a food that produces a strong contracting effect. When we apply salt to vegetables, the vegetables expel water, contract and become more crunchy. When we apply salt to meat or fish, the meat or fish contracts, hardens and is preserved - it does not rot, which is a process of expanding and breaking apart. These effects tell us that salt is yang.

Natural sea salt, however, is made up of many different types of chemical salts - sodium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chlorie, etc, etc. Of these, magnesium chloride and other magnesium salts are the first to harden and crystalize when salt is dried. In macrobiotics, these are considered the most yang.

And the great macrobiotic salt debate is about whether totally unrefined sea salt, with its magnesium chloride and other magnesium salts intact, is too yang.

Most American and European macrobiotic teachers associated with the Kushi Institute think so and they recommend partially refined sea salt. But some groups, mainly the French macrobiotic teachers, disagree and they recommend fully unrefined sea salt, such as Celtic sea salt.

To back their viewpoint, the American teachers cite the condition of French macrobiotic teacher Jacques de Langre, who was a strong advocate of Celtic unrefined sea salt and author of the book, Sea Salt's Hidden Powers. Apparently, Jacques de Langre became so yang and contracted in his old age that his body was bent over and he could not stand straight.

Jacques de Langre, however, has his own groups of followers who argue strongly that fully natural and unrefined sea salt is the only type of salt suitable for consumption.

Which group is right? Unfortunately I do not know. There is probably no absolute answer, because yin and yang depends not only on the type of salt we use, but on everything else about our diet and lifestyle.

Refined vs unrefined sea salt

Salt is a highly complex substance and there are many things about salt that we still do not fully understand. But one thing we can say for sure - salt is not just sodium chloride and refined salt, which comprises 99.9 percent sodium chloride, is harmful to health.

What we need to take is natural, unrefined sea salt - or lake salt or rock salt. But whether the salt should be partially refined, or fully unrefined sea salt, that still remains an open question.

Click here to read about Himalayan pink salt, which is also unrefined sea salt - from ancient seas that dried up hundreds of millions of years ago.

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