Saturday, August 29, 2009

"S" is for Salt

Did you know that there’s more than 14,000 uses for salt? Besides being a flavourful condiment, salt has unlimited uses in the kitchen. It is a cleaning agent, by itself or in combination with other substances. A solution of sea salt and water will clean the bottom of your wine decanter, removing all the red wine stains and sediment.
Salt is the world's oldest known food additive. We were born with the ability to distinguish and crave salt for our survival. Salt keeps our bodies hydrated. Severe salt depletion would kill, so we’ve evolved to seek out salt when we need it. Our nerves and muscles require salt to function.

In the world of our senses, salt is considered a predominant taste sensation experienced on our tongue. We crave the saltiness of a wide variety of ingredients and foods. For this reason it must be considered when pairing wine to food. The level of saltiness in food will change the taste of the wine.

There are as many different types and kinds of salts from around the world as there are wines. Sea salt is a favourite, containing trace elements and minerals that are good for us, that is when consumed in moderation. Considering the flavor it provides, on a pinch-by-pinch basis, a quality sea salt can certainly be a reasonable, culinary investment.

Wales produces Halen Mon, a sea salt harvested from the Atlantic waters. Fleur de sel, meaning the ‘flower of salt’, comes from the island of Ré, off France's Atlantic coast. Since the seventh century, the sun and wind have evaporated the sea water, leaving fine crystals that are harvested in July and August from the surface. Fleur de sel is recognized for its delicate flavour and concentration of minerals. Fleur de sel does not bit the tip of the tongue like table salt. It is best used as a condiment where its finest qualities, such as its delicate flavour and texture, will shine. England, New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii all produce their own salts from the sea. Celtic gray sea salt was once a well-kept secret, highly regarded by food writers and chefs around the world. This salt comes from the marshes of Brittany on the coast of France. Celtic gray sea salt is more widely available and is now more reasonably priced.

Local bulk stores and gourmet food shops sell sea salt at a reasonable price. Sea salt brings out the natural flavors of ingredients and provides texture and appearance to dishes.

Sea salt complements both white and red wines. Saltiness, in general, contrasts well with the sourness or acidity in crisp, white wines, such as sauvignon blanc, aligote, gruner veltiliner, muscadet, viognier and vinho verde. Salty foods, such as smoked salmon, raw oysters, cheeses like feta or goat’s milk and even potato chips. Salty foods can work well with red wines, as well. The saltiness in foods works with the bitterness from the tannin in heavy, red wines Red wines with lots of tannin, such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, barberesco, barolo and pinotage naturally complement salty cheeses like parmesan and blue cheese.

Here’s a tip … if you purchase a red wine with too much bitterness, sprinkle more salt on the accompanying dish. The saltiness will soften the taste of the bitterness in the wine.

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