I often thought about starting a salt-free diet, but, I must admit, I always shivered at the idea. Since I left Italy, I have drastically decreased the amount of salt I use in my recipes. However, a diet completely deprived of salt scares me.
We now know that limiting (not to mention getting rid of) salt in our diet is a wise healthy choice. As well as decreasing the use of simple sugars. Unfortunately, these recommendations are often misunderstood and we see people convinced of the fact that eliminating carbs (=sugars) from their diet is the way to a happier and slimmer life. What is often unclear is that the problem is not in the nutrient itself, but the excess of intake. We require carbs as they are the main fuel of our body. Seemingly, our body needs minerals, as sodium and potassium that are essential for the muscular contraction. Both carbs and salts are already contained in the food we eat, therefore there is no need to add them to that.
This is what I keep telling myself and that I managed to apply to common table sugar, sucrose. For instance, I now take most of my coffees black. Unfortunately, my willpower doesn’t work so well with salt that I keep adding to my food. I look with admiration at those people claiming with a pinch of satisfaction: “I do not add any salt or sugar to my recipes! We should appreciate the natural taste of food”. True. Indeed, I have no problem to appreciate a basket of fresh seasonal strawberries. But which kind of satisfaction can you find in an unsweetened banana bread??? “You just replace the dose of sugar with some bananas”, they advise. What a great idea! And where do you think the sweetness of banana comes from? From the banana’s sugars! No, I am sorry, the sucrose in the banana is no better than the one in the package you find at the grocery stores. “Then, you can add honey or maple syrup”, they insist. No wonder honey and maple syrup are delicious products, but we are still talking about simple sugars and they are not qualitatively better because they come from bees or trees! We already talk about that here.
Anyways, I believe that a salt-free diet is very sad. I tried that and gave it up after the first meal (I know, I should have tried harder). I told myself that eventually my blood pressure is so low that a pinch of salt can’t hurt (any excuse to keep using salt :P). But the last day, while browsing one of This’s books, Pentole e Provette (I am quite sure there is an English translation of that book), I read that salt is not only a flavor enhancer. The reason why we add salt in our recipes has also another reason.
Who doesn’t remember the famous pinch of salt to add to the cake’s batters? Not to mention how much the chefs got creative in the last few years: salted caramel, chocolate with fleur de sal, cookies with salt crystals and so on. Let’s admit it, what would be a pistachio gelato without that subtle salted hint?
Well folks, here is the thing: salt improves flavors. There are studies confirming that salt would decrease the perception of unpleasant flavors as the bitter ones. But there is more, because salt would also enhance the perception of more agreeable flavors as the sweet ones, for example. How could we enjoy a good radicchio sauté without that pinch of salt that softens its notorious bitterness? :) Eventually, there is a reason if the salt-free diet sounds so scary to a foodie!
After having just found the last excuse I needed, I now go to test a few combinations of food and salt. Don’t forget to check on the blog on Friday, for a dedicated recipe :)
Hervé This, Pentole e Provette, 72-73, Ed. Gambero Rosso