Know your salts
Different salts have different flavors influenced by the minerals and other factors where they are found. The texture of some salts, such as the flaky crystals of fleur de sel, can also add a different sensory experience. Salts can even be smoked or roasted, like traditional Korean bamboo salt, to enhance flavors. It’s a delight to explore and experiment with a variety of different salts.
- Flavored & colored salt: Salt can be used as a carrier for other flavors. A few tasty options include celery salt, garlic salt, onion salt, or even herbally flavored salts such as basil or rosemary salt.
- Fleur de sel: Known as “flower of the salt,” this has the finest, most delicate flakes. Its specific harvesting conditions make it more costly to produce. It is typically used as a condiment, not a cooking salt.
- Flake salt: Produced by surface evaporation, this super-light salt is easy to measure by hand, which helps the chef control how much is used. It adds a crunchy texture to foods.
- Unrefined sea salt: This salt is created through the natural process of evaporating seawater. If not processed to remove impurities, it will contribute a lot of flavor and color.
- Kosher salt: Often used in cooking for its non-iodized flavor, its large crystals make it easy to add by hand. It is also used for the koshering meat process of Jewish dietary laws.
- Himalayan salt: This rose-colored salt comes from salt lakes which evaporated over 250 million years ago inside caves in Pakistan. Protected from modern pollution, it is extremely pure and clean.
As a chef, you can help your patrons discover the many exciting ways to flavor dishes without a lot of salt. Here are a few to try:
More: Vegetables (peppers, spinach, dried tomatoes, avocado), fruits (pineapple, pears, apples), unsalted nuts, chicken
Less: Pepperoni, bacon, ham, extra cheese
More: Tomato-based sauces, in-season vegetables steamed or lightly sautéed, chicken
Less: Cheese, bacon, sausage
More: Fresh vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers), avocadoes, jalapeños, sautéed onions and mushrooms
Less: Bacon, cheese, BBQ sauce
More: Fresh vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers), fresh herbs (basil), roasted peppers, avocadoes, sautéed onions and mushrooms, chicken, egg, mozzarella cheese, reduced-fat mayo
Less: Ham, cheddar cheese, pickles, mustard
More: Fresh greens, vegetables and fruits, dried fruits (raisins and cherries), unsalted nuts, dressings on the side
Less: Salty nuts or seeds, dressings on the salad
The balance: Because potassium can help reduce sodium in the body, you can balance higher sodium ingredients with higher potassium foods such as tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms, spinach or sweet potatoes, to name a few.
Adjusting the palate
Humans (even babies) have a preference for sweet and salty flavors. However, these tastes can be changed, and people can adapt to either lower or higher levels of saltiness. When changes are made gradually, they may go by almost unnoticed.1
How low can you go?
Nestlé Professional’s experiments suggest that 10% of the sodium can be removed from a recipe before people notice a difference. If you’re planning to reduce sodium on your menu, try small reductions over a period of time to evolve diners’ tastes. It’s stealthy, but it works.
Did you know?
The word salary comes from the Latin salarium, which referred to the money paid to Roman soldiers for the purchase of salt—and thus the expression “worth his salt.”
Spice it up
Creative tips for cooking with (or without) salt:
Lowering sodium gives you a perfect opportunity to experiment with new flavor combinations that are big on taste, but low in sodium. Adding lower sodium items to your menu will be appreciated by health-conscious patrons, and adding flavor will be enjoyed by all.
Instead of salt, try these intriguing matches:2
- With beef: bay leaf, marjoram, nutmeg, onion, pepper, sage, thyme
- With pork: garlic, onion, sage, pepper, oregano
- With chicken: ginger, marjoram, oregano, paprika, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme
- With fish: curry powder, dill, dry mustard, lemon juice, marjoram, paprika, pepper
- With carrots: cinnamon, cloves, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary, sage
- With tomatoes: basil, bay leaf, dill, marjoram, onion, oregano, parsley, pepper
- With potatoes: dill, garlic, onion, paprika, parsley, sage
- With greens: onion, pepper, lemon juice
Change your techniques
- Increase the acidity in a dish to replace some or all of the salt. A small amount of lemon juice, vinegar, tomato juice or reduced wine will balance and enliven all the other flavors, without registering as sour or acidic on the tongue.
- Brown or caramelize foods to boost flavor without the addition of salt.
- Try oven-roasting vegetables with olive oil or fruit salsas to serve over meat or fish.
- Add salt crystals as a finishing touch to provide higher salt perception when the crystals hit the tongue. This technique gives you more taste with less sodium.
Enlist the help of your ingredients
- Take advantage of seasonal offerings and make them abundant on the plate. Peak-season fruit and vegetables are the most flavorful.
- If you use frozen, canned or other prepared foods, investigate lower sodium, reduced sodium, or no-salt-added versions.
- Rinse canned foods, such as tuna, to remove some sodium before serving.
Did you know?
People who smoke are less sensitive to salt than those who don’t smoke. If you or members of your kitchen staff are smokers, caution them against using a heavy hand with the salt shaker.
Favorite methods from the chefs at Nestlé Professional
- Instead of steaming fish, try pan-frying it with a small amount of oil. That all-important Maillard reaction between sugars and proteins always works to build flavor.
- Other cooking techniques that add lots of flavor include braising, grilling and roasting.
- Most people are familiar with the technique of marinating proteins to add flavor, but vegetables can also be marinated. This really helps layer on the flavor.
- Lock in flavor with sous vide, the technique of cooking ingredients in a vacuum-sealed pouch, usually for a long time at a low temperature.
- Use precious specialty ingredients like truffle oil or fine sea salt to finish a dish. Before serving meat or potatoes, sprinkle on a small amount of smoked salt, or drizzle on some nut oil for a robust addition that will hit the taste buds first.
1. IOM (Institute of Medicine).2010. Strategies to reduce sodium intake in the United States., Washington DC.
2. Essentials of Nutrition for Chefs by Powers C, Abbott Hess M. 2010.