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Salt & the City

Posted on: December 23, 2015     |     0 comments

Are we using too much salt, or is this just the beginning?


When I was training to become a chef, above everything else when it came to creating dishes and working with ingredients, the key was always seasoning - season everything! Invariably, this means salt. Pepper is usually the trusty sidekick, but on the whole, we as chefs tend to lean towards salt as our go to essential. Salt is the one ingredient that a chef shouldn't be without, such is its influence in the world that the word salary comes from salt & there have even been wars fought over salt! 


I've witnessed full on meltdowns when someone forgot to order salt, and it is not pretty, running to the nearest shop to buy tubes of salt topped with a bit of stuck on dust from only selling 12 a year.


But why do we rely on it so heavily? On its own, it's not a particularly nice flavour. Put it on a steak and it takes on a new dimension, yes it's not the star of the show and rarely is, if ever, but serving a steak that's not been seasoned with salt? Unthinkable! You just wouldn't do it, and if you did, it wouldn't be too long before your customers let you know what's missing. 


There's been a touch more emphasis lately, with the emergence of salted caramel and salted chocolate adding to the complexity and sophistication of a good desert menu. Chefs know that customers look out for these things, but it does create another talking point. Too much salt the dish is ruined, too little and it's not salted caramel or it's not salted chocolate. And it's a simple matter of personal taste. Should it be the sweetness first then a slightly salty aftertaste to cut the sugar rush, or a flood of salt before the emergence of the caramel? Again, it's down to the diner’s opinion, someone should really drop both options in front of Gregg Wallace (and go with the one he doesn't like). Salted caramel itself dates back to the 1970's when a French confectioner tried to showcase the famous local salted butter but it has only really come to the publics imagination in the past 5 years.


The salt products on offer to chefs are ever increasing. Before, we had table salt and sea salt to work with. Table salt for immediate flavour during cooking, sea salt for an accompanying flavour or for steaks. Now we're onto rock salt, smoked salt, smoked sea salt, garlic salt, Himalayan pink salt (for roughly 9 days back in 2006), truffled salt, volcanic salt, organic sea salt if your salt just isn't natural enough and even vanilla salt. I'm not sure if I'm being too old school but it does seem like a lot. Even in the face of constantly changing customer tastes, it seems a bit much. 


So where does the culinary industry go from here? Will it be a case of a salted caramel tart becomes the sticky toffee pudding of 2050? Will we keep adding it to more products to enhance them or is that 'step too far' just around the corner? 

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