Salt has been a part of prehistoric man’s life for thousands of years, especially used for food preservation and hence of value. It took on symbolic value too as often mentioned in the Bible – “salt of the earth” “a pillar of salt” and “a covenant of salt”.

Salt was also an early form of payment to soldiers in ancient Rome. The word salary originates from the Latin word sal for salt. And the expression “not worth his salt” is used for someone who does a lousy job.

Like other mammals that are attracted to salt licks, humans can not do entirely without salt. It is essential for the functioning of our muscles and nerves. A deficiency can result in serious consequences because over half our bodies consist of fluids which contain salt. We lose salt in perspiration, urine, etc. which needs to be replaced. Salt is essential in small quantities but in excess is harmful to animals, humans and plants. Not only does it enhance the flavour of food, but it is widely used as a preservative, texture aid, binder, colour developer and for controlling fermentation.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends less than 5 grams (about 1 teaspoon) of salt, or less than 2 grams of sodium, per person per day. According to WHO excess dietary sodium intake increases blood pressure and consequently increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases; and high sodium intake is associated with obesity, chronic kidney disease and gastric cancer.

A 2009 study at Allahabad compared different salts – low sodium, rock, iodised and non-iodised – on patients suffering from chronic kidney disease and concluded that that rock salt is the most beneficial.

A study published in 2016 in the American Journal of Public Health comprising of 975 people aged 60 to 80 with hypertension found that reducing sodium in their diets was associated with a lower risk of headache.

Although people know it is unhealthy to consume sodium, most don’t reduce their intake. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has stated that an average Indian consumes around 10 grams (4 grams of sodium) of salt daily which is double the recommended amount.

Low sodium salt usually contains 30% less sodium than normal table salt. It is specially formulated by replacing sodium chloride with potassium, magnesium and calcium compounds. It is used as salt substitute for those who need to follow a low sodium diet for medical reasons such as hypertension and high blood pressure.

Today there are over twenty types of well known edible sea and rock salts available in different parts of the world: refined, unrefined, iodised, fine-grained, crystals, flakes, tablets, coarse, grinder, and so on. Although almost all the salt obtained is via evaporation, there are different processes depending on whether it is from the sea or earth.

Epsom salt is not actually a salt. It is hydrated magnesium sulphate, a mineral compound first produced from the bitter saline spring in Epsom (Surrey, England). Taken orally to treat heartburn and constipation, and injected to prevent seizures, it is said to have myriad medicinal properties. In addition to this, it is used as beauty and bath salts, a coagulant that could be used for making tofu, a brewing salt in the production of beer, and a micronutrient for plants.

Sour salt is not a salt either. It is citric acid that is used to prevent browning of canned fruit and is added for tartness to rye or sour dough bread.

Common/Sea Salts
Salt is sodium chloride and is obtained after a series of sun evaporations of sea water or brine from other sources such as wells and salt lakes.

In the process of making common/sea/solar salt small marine creatures and organisms die. In fact, putrid flesh along with organic filth needs to be filtered out during the refining process. This is because sea water at particular stages of evaporation is shifted to different drying pits, ponds, basins or reservoirs from whose bottoms water can not leach out, while the hot sun evaporates it.

It is common to see storks (birds) foraging for fish at salt pans of Kaliveli, Pondicherry. In Goa evaporation in salt pans takes place from February to May and crude salt is extracted in summer. During the remaining part of the year from June to January, fish/shrimps are raised in these fields.

After the monsoon the Rann of Kutch, abandoned by fisher folk is taken over by salt collectors. The marsh is covered by salty water which due to the hot sun begins to dry November onwards. 70% of the salt produced in India is from Gujarat. Over 13,000 salt works produce on an average 176 lakh tones of salt per year, making India the third highest producer in the world. Surplus salt is exported.

In early 2012 Indian salt manufacturers began exploring new harvesting methods involving the use of heavy machinery from China and Mexico. This they said would combat an annual loss of about 20% workers due to work-related health hazards.

In November 2019 about 18,000 migratory birds were found dead at Sambhar Lake, India’s largest inland salt lake, situated 80 kms from Jaipur. No one really knew why they died, but one of the reasons put forward was salt pans and toxins in the water. Part of the lake is leased out to Sambhar Salts in a joint venture with Hindustan Salts Ltd and from where about 9% of India’s salt comes.

Microplastics have been found in sea salt samples across India by various research groups. The number found in 1 kg varied between 35 and 575 particles. They were polymers like polyethylene, polyester and polyvinyl chloride. People could be ingesting about 216 particles per year via sea salt.

The Don Juan Pond, a 10-cm puddle in Antarctica, is the saltiest body of water on earth with a salinity level of over 40% so the water rarely freezes.

Dead Sea salt is 10 times more salty than seawater and is the fifth saltiest body of water in the world. The salt and minerals are used in cosmetics, balms, and many other products for therapeutic benefit.

Particular sea salts harvested in different parts of the world are Hawaiian sea salt to which alaea or volcanic clay is added, Sel gris (grey salt or Celtic salt) that contains clay from the region in France where it is harvested – it is obtained in the same way as Flower of Salt (Fleur de Sel or Flor de Sal) by skimming from the top of salt ponds during the initial process of evaporation. Italian/Sicilian sea salt or Sale Marino is from the Mediterranean. However, French sea salt is not from France but Atlantic seawater – it contains natural iodine and is processed less than American salt.

Iodised and Flavoured Salts

Pickling salt or kitchen salt is coarse and 100% sodium chloride because it is unrefined. It is free of iodine and similar to Kosher salt. (Kosher salt gets its name not from how it is made, but because it is used to cure kosher meats.) Pickling salt is also known as Gos sel, Gale Grosso, canning salt and coarse salt.

Sea salt, after refining with potassium iodate or iodide of mineral origin, becomes iodised salt or table salt which is recommended by Government to reduce the incidence of goitre and sold under brands like Tata. The only anti-caking agent permitted under the Food Act to be added to table salt is aluminium silicate which is of mineral origin.

In 2012 Tata Chemicals and some other big salt manufacturers began fortifying salt with iron so that in addition to goitre, anaemia could be avoided. This Double Fortified Salt (DFS) technology developed by the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, was endorsed by the government but not made compulsory.

In 1960 iodized salt consumption began being promoted in India and by the mid-1980s was successfully fighting against goitre. In 2013 the National Iodine Deficiency Disorders Control Programme estimated that more than 200 million Indians were still at risk of iodine deficiency disorders, despite this leading nutritionists of India feel it is very unwise for government to force people who are not iodine deficient to ingest iodized salt because potassium iodate is very harmful – it has been banned in 23 countries because it can cause up to 42 different diseases. A World Health Organisation (WHO) survey has found that Indians have optimal iodine levels. Also, according to WHO, excess iodine can not be eliminated leading to serious problems like depression, insomnia, impotence, hemorrhagic rashes, death due to edema of the glottis, still births, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, obesity, degenerative diseases, cancer and cardiovascular problems, etc.

Flavoured/seasoned/herbal salts (used mainly in non-veg food items) such as smoked, onion, garlic, rosemary, basil, sarriette, marjoram, thyme, hickory, apple, lemon, orange, etc. are usually made from sea salts to which a blend of the flavour is added. Black salt/kala namak and iron fortified salt can be similarly produced from common salt to which minerals are added.

Jukyeom or bamboo salt is Korean: sea salt filled in bamboo trunks, ends sealed with natural yellow clay, and roasted from three to nine times in a furnace using pinewood as fuel. (Purple bamboo salt considered the best is roasted nine times.) Bamboo salt is highly alkaline whereas other salts are acidic; it contains 70 kinds of minerals and has umpteen medicinal benefits derived from the bamboo, clay and pinewood.

Rock/Mineral Salts
However, black or red salt/kala namak/sanchal is basically volcanic rock salt/saindhav which is mined in Northern India and is high in fluoride. The salt is unrefined and is not really black but pinkish-grey in colour. Chemically it is sodium chloride with iron, sulphurous compounds and trace minerals.

Kala namak is the basic ingredient of all chaat masalas. It is some times sprinkled on fruit, such as apples, to enhance taste. Just like soy is cooked with the same spices to mimic meat, tofu spiced with kala namak is considered by vegans a good alternative smell- and taste-wise to eggs, especially if scrambled or in a salad as a replacement to hard-boiled eggs.

Gomashio is a Japanese condiment (similar to India’s chaat masala) that consists of toasted tan/red or black coloured sesame seeds and salt in the ratio 5:1 which is sprinkled over rice.

Purple salt/potassium permanganate, a disinfectant, is of mineral origin and by mixing a pinch of it in water, is used to wash foods such as salads.

Papad-khar/Alkaline Salt is a light or dark brown efflorescent ash obtained either from alkaline deposits in the soil or by burning a variety of plants like Arthrocnemum, Salsola, Haloxylon recurvum or Salicornia. It is amorphous to crystalline, mined in lumps and broken down. As the name Papad-khar indicates, it is a vital salt or ingredient in papad making and other items such as gathiya, fafda, papdi and chakli that need to remain crisp.

Himalayan crystal salt (halite/rock salt) is obtained from underground or surface deposits in Pakistan and is more than just sodium and chloride. Also known as sandha namak, vrat ka namak, Pakistani namak and Kashmir rock salt, it comes in huge crystal pinkish-white pieces. It is delicious as if flavoured with herbs and is considered the purest salt on earth. That’s why some times it is referred to as salt diamonds or white gold. It contains an almost identical set of elements to those found inside the human body – 84 of the possible 92 trace minerals, in the same proportion as naturally exists in human blood. Among these are potassium, chloride, sodium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, iron, manganese, copper, iodine, selenium and molybdenum. All these are essential to the human body because they have known biologic functions.

The following 84 elements are present in Himalayan crystal salt: hydrogen, lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, fluoride, sodium, magnesium, aluminum, silicon, phosphorus, sulfur, chloride, calcium, scandium, titanium, vanadium, chromium, manganese, iron, cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc, gallium, germanium, arsenic, selenium, bromine, rubidium, strontium, yttrium, zirconium, niobium, molybdenum, ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, silver, cadmium, indium, tin, antimony, tellurium, iodine, cesium, barium, lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, lutetium, hafnium, tantalum, tungsten, rhenium, osmium, iridium, platinum, gold, mercury, thallium, lead, bismuth, polonium, astatine, francium, radium, actinium, thorium, protactinium, uranium, neptunium, and plutonium.

The winner of two Nobel Prizes, Linus Pauling has stated that every sickness, every disease, and every ailment can be traced back to a mineral deficiency. Dietary minerals are essential for humans. The best way to make sure that one gets essential minerals is to incorporate Himalayan crystal salt in ones diet.

Himalayan crystal salt is not only healthy, but vegan, and easily available. In comparison, the remains of dead creatures need to be removed during processing of sea salts including the commonly available iodised salt.
Page last updated on 11/01/24