Salt to Live


Article by Lynette Standley

Photography by Lynette Standley

Salty spring greetings! And I mean that in the most positive sense for good cooking. I love salt—on my salads, in my pasta water, in my banana bread.

Have you seen the Netflix series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat? (It’s also a book.) Whether you like to cook, eat or travel, this show has something for everyone. Four one-hour episodes are an easy, entertaining watch. Let's dive into salt.


It’s such a valuable preservative and seasoning that it was used as currency eons ago.

Today it’s key to enhancing flavors when cooking. You could cook with only salt and be OK; without it, food tastes flat (however, no-salt diet participants manage to get by.)

Some salt tastes saltier than others. For example:

  • Iodized table salt is mined from underground deposits. Iodine, an essential but hard-to-come-by mineral for humans, is added for thyroid health (circa 1920s). The fine grain works well for baking. Its pure taste may seem saltier.
  • Sea salt is created from evaporated sea water. It has trace minerals like iron and magnesium that may make the flavor seem somewhat less salty and a bit more complex or minerally. The flakes and chunks are nice for finishing: salads, baked pretzels or caramels.
  • Kosher salt has nothing added and is a slightly bigger crystal than table salt. It’s great for sauces and meats or boiling pasta.
  • Salt varieties number in the hundreds and include red, black, and pink from the sea, Himalayan (naturally high in iodine), as well as some infused with flavors like lemon, lavender or basil.

Fun fact: 10% of salt produced in the world today ends up in the kitchen; most is for industrial uses – like snowy roads!

Last February, just pre-pandemic, I visited the west coast “salt pans” of Sicily, near Marsala. Shallow coastal waters and hot African winds provide perfect conditions for producing sea salt. Beautiful old windmills provide energy for pumps that move water between the pans through the evaporation process.

My travelmates and I found this stop fascinating. There is an interesting museum (pictured above where you go inside the windmill) that highlights the traditional process with a video and artifacts. There's a retail shop and also a bar/restaurant on the shore for a Spritz or panino during your visit.

Salt production along this stretch of coastline reached its peak just after the unification of Italy in 1860, when 31 salt pans produced over 100,000 tons per year. It was exported all over Europe, from Norway to Russia. The piles of salt still dot the landscape, neatly covered for protection with the ubiquitous red tiles of Italy.

Today, while demand has decreased, there is still a niche market among chefs and foodies who swear by the salt’s unique qualities: it is 100% natural and contains a higher concentration of potassium and magnesium than common salt.

Want to go check it out? Let's do it! So much to see in Sicily, from these incredible "salty plains" to well-preserved Greek ruins and the very active Mt. Etna. We will travel again; add Sicily to your list!

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