Whole Salt or Refined Salt: What’s the difference?
by Cynthia Briscoe
Most Americans unknowingly consume a great deal of poor quality, commercial salt in the form of snack foods, prepared foods, fast foods and restaurant fare. The salt used in these products is highly refined. You can think of it as the white sugar of the salt world. Common refined table salt looks like salt and tastes like salt. However, you are getting much more and much less than you bargain for. Let ‘s look at the difference between commercial refined salt and naturally harvested sea salt.
Common table salt is mined and stripped of its naturally occurring trace minerals, which are then sold separately for profit as supplements. Magnesium is extracted by processing the original salt with caustic soda or lime, fetching a higher price. Other valuable elements in the sea salt are also lost or extracted. Some folks argue that the trace minerals are of such miniscule proportion that they are insignificant to human health. It’s true that we do not need huge amounts of copper, manganese, selenium, boron, etc., but our human biology is evolved to include this subtle but vast array of trace minerals to support cell metabolism. Natural sea salt contains 60 to 90 trace minerals.
After stripping the salt from its naturally occurring minerals, commercial salt is heated at high temperatures and supplemented with iodine and various agents to make it free flowing. The most common free flowing agent is aluminum silicate. Aluminum concentrations have been found in the nerve dendrites of Alzheimer sufferers. Many people avoid aluminum cookware for this reason, but are not aware that they are consuming aluminum everyday in salt.
Remember this cute little girl dressed in yellow, holding an open umbrella over her head? She adorned the carton of Morton’s Salt with the slogan, “When it rains, it pours”. The addition of aluminum silicate to Morton’s salt eliminated those pesky lumps in the saltshaker making it free flowing. Naturally processed sea salt has a softer texture and is hydroscopic, meaning it attracts some moisture from the air, which can form lumps. I would definitely “take my lumps” over “when it rains it pours.”
Perusing salt cartons in the supermarket, I noticed another agent listed on the back of Morton’s Sea Salt and also on Morton’s Kosher salt: yellow sodium prussiate? Hmm, what is sodium prussiate?
Sodium prussiate or sodium ferrocyanide (YPS or E535) is another free-flowing chemical agent industrially produced from hydrogen cyanide. It is added to road salt to keep it from clumping and a stabilizer for the coating on welding rods. In photography it is used for bleaching toning and fixing.
According to the MSDS (Material Data Safety Sheet), it is a hazardous irritant to the skin, eyes and respiratory system. Advised in case of ingestion: Do not induce vomiting. Loosen tight clothing such as the collar, tie, belt or waistband. If the person is not breathing, perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and seek immediate medical attention.
Obviously, the FDA must have approved a certain proportion of these anti-caking agents in food grade salt, but one must question the subtle long-term effects on human health, especially if an individual’s health is compromised. For me, I prefer the inconvenience of a few clumps in my salt box by the stove.
I remember Cornellia Aihara advised folks to choose a clean, white naturally harvested sea salt over colored salts such as the gray or pink salt. She said the colored salts were too yang or contracting for humans: that these salts were OK for pickling or for animals. She never fully explained why. I questioned whether this was a “Cornellia-ism” or simply because she exalted Mr. Muramoto and the salt he produced. I know many camps highly promote the gray Celtic Sea Salt.
So I called David Jackson, who processes and provides the brand, SI salt, available through Goldmine Natural Foods and is sold at various natural foods stores. His opinion agreed with Cornellia’s that the colored salts are more yang than the cleaner white salts and that he had observed that consumption of the colored salts over time produced some pretty yang folks. From a macrobiotic perspective (big view) perhaps the more mineral rich impurities in colored salt may benefit those whose condition is more yin or needing more minerals, perhaps for certain lengths of time.
So use your informed judgment and select a quality, naturally harvested salt that appeals to your personal needs and biology. Number 1, choose a salt produced by natural elements of clean water, wind, sun and earth with minimal processing. Number 2, choose a salt free from chemical additives.