Sea Salt Versus Table Salt

Until recently, sea salt was just considered to be the common table salt. Both salts have the same fundamental nutritional value, consisting of two minerals, sodium and chloride. While sea salt is marketed to be a healthy and natural alternative, the main differences are in their texture, taste and how they are processed, not their chemical makeup.

Sea Salt

Sea salt, also known as bay or solar salt, is produced through evaporation of seawater, which leaves behind trace minerals and elements, with the exact composition varying according to the water source.

The evaporation process is most efficiently accomplished using solar energy, favoring regions with warm and dry climates. Currently, the primary sources of sea salt include the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean (predominantly in France), and the North Sea. The salt is harvested by channeling ocean water into large clay trays and allowing natural evaporation of water from the sea brine to occur.

There are at least 15 different types of sea salt differentiated by the minerals present and grain size (coarseness). These include coarse salt, finishing salt, flake salt, kosher salt, grey salt, grinder salt, organic salt, Kala Namak, and Fleur de Sel.

Sea salt is roughly 55% chloride (Cl-) and 30% sodium (Na+). Because it is not as refined as table salt, it still contains traces of other minerals, including, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, manganese, and iodine. These small amounts of minerals add a distinctive flavor and color to sea salt.



Table Salt

Table salt is a much more refined, small grained salt that is mined from underground salt deposits. Water is pumped into the underground salt deposit to dissolve the salt. The brine is then pumped to the surface, where impurities settle. Once this occurs, the brine is vacuumed. This rapid vacuum evaporation yields the tiny, regularly shaped grains that are found in common salt shakers.

Some table salt is taken from the sea, but it uses the same vacuum evaporation procedure. This procedure is done to eliminate the trace minerals that are found in sea salt. Also, an additive is usually added to prevent clumping, such as sodium silicoaluminate or magnesium carbonate. Most table salt also has added iodine, an essential nutrient that appears naturally in small amounts in sea salt.

Cost

Sea salt is generally more expensive than table salt, and is commonly used in gourmet cooking and for hand-cooked, or kettle cooked, potato chips. It is becoming increasingly common for restaurants to provide sea salt as "table salt".

Nutritional Information

The Mayo Clinic states that table salt and sea salt have the same nutritional value because they have roughly the same amount of sodium chloride, the primary component of salt. (The insignificant amounts of trace minerals in sea salt mostly just add flavor and color).

A case could be made that table salt is healthier than sea salt because of the added iodine. However, given that iodine is present in other foods such as milk, this is not a major health concern.

Regardless of its source, our bodies require a certain amount of salt to function properly and stay healthy. Too much or too little salt in ones diet can lead to dizziness, muscle cramps, and electrolyte disturbance, which can cause neurological problems or even death. Death can also occur by the ingestion of large amounts of salt in a short time (about 1 g per kg of body weight).

Long term effects of excessive salt intake include: stroke and cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, left ventricular hypertrophy (cardiac enlargement), edema (fluid retention) and stomach cancer.