Generally, salt is a crystalline mineral made up of the positive ion (cation) of a base and the negative ion (anion) of an acid.
Whenever an acid and a base react, the process is called neutralisation. Even though different types of salt can be identified, the use of salt in this piece connotes table salt or common salt, which is a crystalline mineral and a chemical compound containing 40 per cent of sodium (Na) and 60 per cent of chlorine (Cl) hence, the chemical symbol for salt is NaCl.
The most widely used table salt is extracted from underground salt deposits and it is processed to remove impurities.
Since 1924, iodine has been added to table salt to chiefly prevent goiter and hypothyroidism (a common condition where the thyroid gland does not create and release enough thyroid hormones into the bloodstream).
Thyroid is a large ductless gland in the neck, which secretes hormones regulating growth and development. Type and quantity of additive added to salt, however, vary from country to country.
Over thousands of years, salt has been used as a preservative because it is used to preserve the freshness of food. It preserves food by preventing microbial growth.
Usually, salt draws water out of the cells of foods and bacteria through a scientific process known as osmosis (the movement of molecules from a region of higher concentration to lower concentration until the concentrations become equal on either side of the membrane). A reduced amount of water inhibits bacterial growth.
Apart from being a common preservative, salt is also a flavour-enhancing agent to food. Mostly, people think that salt adds flavour to food.
On the contrary, salt releases flavour into the food by breaking the cell walls in vegetables, fruits and meat thereby helping us to enjoy the natural flavour of the food.
It is rather the breakdown of the cells that releases the distinctive aroma and flavour in food and not the taste of the salt itself.
Even though the main functions of table salt are food preservation and acting as a flavouring agent, it has many other less-known functions such as essential nutrient in the food, enhancing food texture and colour. For example, the quantity of salt in yeast bread greatly influences the rate of yeast fermentation and gluten formation, both of which significantly affect the bread’s final texture.
Regarding food colour enhancement, for example, the bright colour of many processed types of meat, such as ham or hotdogs, is partially due to salt. Salt promotes and maintains food colour and prevents it from turning gray or muddy.
Salt also quickens gelatinisation of proteins, which usually occurs in cheese production and many processed types of meat such as sausage and ham.
In processed meat products, salt helps retain moisture, and so less saturated fat is needed. Gelatinisation occurs when starch granules are heated in a liquid, causing them to swell and burst, which results in the liquid thickening.
I must reiterate that gelatinisation is different from gelation, which refers to solidification by freezing.
Salt is equally a source of nutrient because it approximately comprises 40 per cent sodium and 60 per cent chlorine.
Our bodies need sodium to relax and contract the muscles, conduct nerve impulses, and sustain the proper balance of minerals and water.
Table salt is a great mineral substance of importance to both human and animal health. Just like water and fire, table salt can be beneficial or harmful to human beings depending on how it is handled in our diets.
Salt can make or unmake a dish depending on the quantity used. Salt can make or break a dish, but most importantly, it is the quantity that plays a crucial role.
It can also be beneficial and harmful to human health depending on its utilisation. There might be times when you have put a pinch of or teaspoon of extra salt in your food which completely ruined the taste of the dish.
Much as many dishes benefit from the trick of adding an appropriate quantity of salt, excess salt can spoil the food.
Whereas excess chlorine in salt can lead to symptoms such as a swollen tongue or lips when eating something salty, excess sodium in salt can cause many health problems for people.
Naturally, salt is contained in meat, fruits and vegetables hence the body gets about 70 per cent salt mainly through our side dishes, soups, sauce and biscuits.
It is worth mentioning, therefore, that excess salt consumption leads to high blood pressure, which is related to heart diseases, including heart attacks and strokes.
Excess use of salt can also damage the kidneys. A decrease in salt intake, thus has the tendency to reduce high blood pressure considerably. Advisedly, a person above 40 years must reduce salt consumption.
However, a person who suffers from dysentery or vomits excessively may have low sodium content in his or her body.
Sweating and fasting can also reduce sodium levels considerably. To address this, the person needs to take healthy food with salt content.
However, one must avoid packet snacks and pickles. That is why doctors often suggest that a patient suffering from dysentery or vomiting must drink water containing salt. Indeed, table salt is a two-edged sword in our hands.