The Magic Ingredient

Erica Wides - February 22, 2017

She’s the salt of the earth. He’s worth his salt. Salad, salsa, salary…all of these words and phrases have one thing in common, they’re based on the most important ingredient in any kitchen; salt!  Ask any chef what their number one seasoning is? They’ll all say salt.  

Salt is so intrinsic to cooking that we don’t even really think about it, it’s just there to sprinkle on food to make it taste good, right? But salt does so much more than perk up your French fries or season your salads. Salt is an actual chemical flavor enhancer. It makes everything else it contacts taste better.  Sweet flavors become more complex, bitterness is balanced, acids mellow, all because of those white crystals and flakes. 

And nowhere else is salt as fundamental to cooking, than the Mediterranean! In fact, the economy of ancient Rome was built on the mining and harvesting of salt. Soldiers and miners were paid in salt, hence the word salary, and where do you think that expression, “worth his salt” comes from? Have you walked on the Via Salaria in Rome? Guess what the name means…Been to Salzburg? There you go.  The ancient history of humanity it’s inextricably linked with the quest for salt, whether it was harvested from the shallow seas or mined from long-gone, underground oceans. 

But aren’t we supposed to limit our salt intake, you ask? Shouldn’t we fear salt?  Yes and no, the high levels of sodium in processed, packaged and canned foods, and fast food, yes, of course. But we shouldn’t be eating those foods anyway, for so many reasons. If you only cook and eat fresh, whole, and real foods, and season them to taste with flaky sea salt, then sprinkle away! If adding salt to fresh foods like vegetables, grains, and beans makes them taste so good that you can’t stop eating them, then let the flakes fly! 

For the home cook, kosher salt or fine sea salt are good for adding to recipes, pasta water, beans, pots of grains, etc. Save the fancy, flaky, and flavored for finishing your salads, vegetables and grilled dishes. The flakes will add a crunchy bright ping, and won’t melt on contact like finer salts. 

Here at Rosemary and Vine, we carefully season and salt our foods to bring out the best in our delicious plant-based Mediterranean cuisine, just like our families back home have been doing for centuries.  They knew long ago what was good, and so do we.

And, (little bit of fun trivia) did you know, that salt is the only rock we eat?