December 31

A Grain of Salt

11  comments

An article appeared in our local bugle today that caught my eye.

The piece, written the AP’s Michele Kayal centers around Mark Bitterman’s, new book Salted which extols the glories of the natural salts of the Earth and which I just received from my darling husband for Christmas.

The reason it caught my eye is that we are salt junkies of the deepest dye. We love natural salts of every hue, buy them wherever travel, and now have quite a collection of them in our kitchen. We have Truffle Salt, of course, French Fleur de Sel and Gros Sel de Mer with herbs and pepper, pink salt from the Himalayas, and Maldon flakes from England. In the photo above, counter-clockwise from the top left are some Jurassic Salt and Black Salt we picked up at Michael Chiarello’s Napa Style store in the wine country (the pinkish ones) and the Vital Mineral Blend Celtic Sea Salt we use for everyday cooking and seasoning.

Regular table salt, the kind that comes in the round cardboard canister, is NaCl–sodium chloride–of course, and while it may or may not be iodized, lacks most all the trace minerals present in natural sea salt. Those minerals are important to good health, particularly having all the proper forms of iodine (both iodine and iodide) required for optimizing not only thyroid function but all sorts of other glandular tissues that depend on it.

An accidental bit of kitchen chemistry I experienced a while back proves the point that there’s stuff in mineral blend sea salt that isn’t in plain salt. I was blanching some chopped red cabbage, which is one of Mike’s favorites, in a large pot of water. Once at the boil, I added a tablespoon of mineral sea salt to the water, then dropped the cabbage and let it briefly boil. I’ve done this countless times with Kosher salt or table salt, but using mineral blend sea salt something strange happened. The burgundy color of the cabbage and water was transformed to a shockingly bright blue. I mean bright blue with not even the merest hint of red in it. The cabbage tasted the same as it usually did, but the color was strikingly different. Repeat the experiment yourself if you like and report back. Maybe different salts will yield different hues, who knows?

I plan to do try the technique again when I need blue food (of which there are few naturally occurring ones) for some event — say July 4th or a Superbowl party, if the Denver Broncos or Cowboys or some team I like with a vivid blue in their team color scheme ever makes it back to the big dance. Obviously not this year for the Broncs or the Boys, but maybe a red, white, and blue theme for the Pats. That’s looking more likely.


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  1. The change in the cabbage color is due to alkali in the salt. Red cabbage is like litmus paper. It will turn blue in the presence of alkali and remain red in the presence of acid. So if you add some vinegar or lemon juice to the water along with the salt, the cabbage will probably remain red, assuming that the acid from the juice isn’t entirely neutralized by the salt.

  2. Red cabbage juice can be used as a crude pH indicator. Anthocyanin (a pigment in the cabbage) changes color depending on the pH of the solution it is in. When in an acidic solution, anthocyanin is red, in a neutral solution it turns blue, and in a basic solution with turn greenish-yellow. More kitchen chemistry!

  3. I can’t wait to try this. I suspect you turned the water into a basic solution which changed the color… like a pH indicator strip.

    Julia Child’s husband once said to her that life without her would be like life without salt.

  4. Hi Mary Dan, I eat the Red Cabbage from Whole Foods and noticed that whenever I rinse the bowl after I eat it, the water turns this amazing electric blue. Now obviously there is already quite a bit of sodium in this essentially “Red Sauerkraut”.

    So not to divert from the point of your article in which we should be consuming unprocessed salt, but I do think that in this case, it’s not the salt causing the change in color, but just the red of the cabbage being diluted in the water. I really have no idea, but just sharing my own observation. Happy New Year!

  5. It would be nice if people considered their guests. Salt can always be added, but never taken away once in. I get heart arrhythmia and one of the triggers is sodium. For me it is life threatening rather than a personal preference.

    Nince

  6. This has happened to me twice when sauteing garlic. I think it is a compound in the plants, not the salt, because I can’t get the same results twice just by repeating the same steps. If you do manage to do it, I think you should put up pictures. It is an amazing color.

  7. How interesting. Being German I make cooked red cabbage occasionally, and after sweating the cabbage it’s a rather unattractive color, but with 2 or 3 tablespoons of vinegar it pops right back. I like the blue idea — just wish the Seahawks did better, I’ve got plenty of green.

    Got turned onto your books by “Fat Head.” LOVED IT. Thank you for getting the message out. Finally I realize there isn’t anything wrong with ME — I’m not lazy (with 3 little kids I NEVER sit down), I’m not stupid (almost done with my Master’s degree), I’ve been lied to. We have little kids (one Special Needs) and can’t get life insurance without it being exhorbitant due to my obesity / gestational diabetes history, and hubby’s blood pressure & cholesterol meds. We wouldn’t be in this pickle if we hadn’t believed the low fat lie.

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

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