For such a simple substance, table salt can certainly be a bit divisive.
On the one hand, it’s a preservative and flavouring that we’ve used in our diets for centuries. The sodium in it is essential for our survival, and is converted in the body to ions which drive the nervous system and musculature.
On the other hand, we’re told that a high sodium intake can raise your blood pressure. The higher your blood pressure, the greater the strain on your heart, arteries, kidneys and brain. Furthermore, eating too much salt can affect the efficiency of blood pressure medicines such as diuretics.
Although other unrefined salts with higher mineral content are now actually said to be good for you in moderation, we generally still have too much sodium in our diets – don’t forget that anything up to 80% of our sodium intake is from ‘hidden’ salts in processed foods.
So what else can we use to brighten up our food while keeping ourselves healthy? Here are a few ideas to add to your recipes.
Rosemary has a strong pine-like fragrance, so it needs to be used sparingly in order to prevent it overpowering other flavours. Add it to roasted meats, bread, pizzas, tomato-based sauces, potatoes and egg dishes.
The peppery herb, which is a key constituent of green pesto, is also great in sandwiches, soups, marinades, dressings and sauces. Basil is also heavily used in Mediterranean cooking, in, pizzas and meat or tomato-based sauces.
Chilli or cayenne pepper
Widely used in Spanish, Mexican and Indian cuisines, the hot, peppery flavour of chilli or cayenne makes it a good alternative to salt. Pre-made chilli sauces can be high in salt (or, in the case of sweet chili sauce, sugar) so stick to powder, flakes or fresh chillies.
Garlic is not only a very effective salt substitute, it’s a healthy addition to your diet in itself. Fresh garlic, sliced thinly and roasted in a little olive oil, is great for marinades. Powdered garlic peps up poultry, pasta, and fried vegetables. If you don’t like garlic, try onion powder instead, but again check on the salt content.
A source of vitamin C and a natural preservative, lemon juice can add piquancy to your meals. Use it in dressings, sauces, on vegetables, in rice, on grilled meats, and in many other dishes. The acid in the lemon provides a zesty alternative to salt – vinegars such as red and white wine and balsamic are also good for lifting otherwise ‘flat’ dishes.
Salsa and chutney
Colourful, flavourful accompaniments to meat, fish, cheese-based dishes, snacks and crudites, the combinations of fruits and vegetables in salsas and chutneys can liven up any unexceptional meal. Try making your own as pre-made versions can overdo the sugar and – you’ve guessed it – the salt.
Ginger can enhance sweet and savoury dishes. Buy it fresh as a root – this can be grated into stir fries and curries during cooking, or sprinkled over meat before baking or barbecuing. It can also be used in salad dressings or added to rice.