Imagine life without salt! But in this day and time, there are many people suffering from high blood pressure or hypertension and these people have to learn to use less salt in their daily cooking. Salt is essential for the body but only in little quantities. It serves many purposes. First and foremost is of taste and salt is the oldest known food additive.
Besides contributing its own basic ‘salty’ taste, salt brings out natural flavours and makes foods acceptable. Salt has many culinary benefits and world’s greatest chefs acknowledge its surprising application even in desserts.
Salt is a preservative. It preserves foods by creating a hostile environment for certain microorganisms. Within foods, salt brine dehydrates bacterial cells, alters osmotic pressure and inhibits bacterial growth and subsequent spoilage.
It also strengthens gluten in bread dough, providing uniform grain, texture and dough strength. With salt present, gluten holds more water and carbon dioxide, allowing the dough to expand without tearing. Salt develops the characteristic rind hardness in cheese and helps produce the desirable, even consistency.
In baked products, salt controls fermentation by retarding and controlling the rate of fermentation, important in making a uniform product. During pickle making, salt brine is gradually increased in concentration, reducing the fermentation rate as the process proceeds to completion. Salt is also used to control fermentation in making cheese. Salt enhances the golden colour in bread crust by reducing sugar destruction in the dough and increasing caramelisation.
Unseasoned salt has an infinite shelf life. Seasoned salts should be kept tightly capped and used within one year. Humidity and moisture will cause salt to clump and stick together. Add about ten grains of raw rice to the shaker to absorb the moisture and keep the salt flowing freely.
For soups that have a long simmering time, go easy on the salt in the beginning, keeping in mind that the liquid will reduce and intensify the salt flavour. Salt pulls juices out of vegetables. This is a good thing for some watery vegetables like cucumbers and eggplant in some dishes, but if you want mushrooms to remain plump, add salt at the end of cooking.
Although a pinch of salt added to breads and desserts enhances flavours, do not double this ingredient when doubling a recipe. A salted warm dish will not taste as salty when cold because chilling dims salty flavours. When tasting for saltiness or other flavourings, be sure to sample a large enough portion to cover the middle and sides of the tongue. The tip of the tongue is less sensitive. Also be sure to cool the food before tasting as high heat will dull taste buds.
Some recipes that can help you in planning your week’s menus:
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