I first heard about Himalayan pink salt in a cooking show. Some chef was raving about its gourmet qualities. I can’t remember which show and which chef but my interest was piqued. Two reasons. First, the color. I love pink. Second, the Himalayas. Ever since I read James Hilton’s Lost Horizon back in high school (or was it in grade school?), anything connected or associated with the Himalayas evoked a sense of mystery.
The idea of cooking with pink salt amused me although it was more like a fantasy than an idea. The way the chef in that forgotten TV show talked about Himalayan pink salt, I got the impression that it was hard to find and, most probably ultra expensive.
Then, a few days ago, on a visit to Indian food stores in Manila, I discovered jars and jars of Himalayan pink salt. The price? PhP120.00 for 340 grams (12 oz.). Of course, I bought one.
Himalayan pink salt
Does Himalayan pink salt magically transform a home cook’s creation into a gourmet delight? I don’t know — yet. I haven’t used the Himalayan pink salt for cooking — I’ll let you know how it turns out. But information I have gathered about it makes it more promising — it just might be something more than a snobbish chef’s claim.
First of all, Himalayan pink salt is just a marketing term. It’s really just sea salt (read the difference between sea salt and rock salt) harvested from a salt mine in Pakistan, some 300 miles from the Himalayas. It is pink because of iron oxide, the exact scientific explanation I sure as hell can’t explain neither to you nor to myself.
What makes Himalayan pink salt special is that it is a full-spectrum salt. Meaning? At the point of harvest, salt contains some 84 minerals. A natural occurrence. Whether the salt was harvested from Pakistan, the Mediterranean or some other place, sea salt has all those 84 minerals. One thing that may make Himalayan pink salt a cut above other sea salts is that, based on its location, it is untainted by environmental pollutants.
On the other hand, table salt (a.k.a. refined salt) has been dried at extremely hot temperatures, a process which scrubs off a lot of the minerals.
In other words, unrefined salt is healthier than refined salt. But how do we know if a salt is real unrefined sea salt or counterfeit sea salt? Real sea salt is never crystal clear nor blazingly white. It’s unrefined, after all. Depending on the point of harvest, sea salt may be grayish, brownish or pink.
Himalayan black salt (kala namak)
On a visit to The Vegetarian Kitchen last year, we were introduced to black salt.
Black salt has the flavor of hard-boiled eggs. Seriously. And it really isn’t black. It’s pink with specks of black.
Unlike the Himalayan pink crystal salt, black salt is not a full-spectrum salt. In fact, it is a condiment rather than real salt because, to produce it, blocks of salt undergo a process that involves heating and the addition of spices. The salt blocks, blackened after prolonged heating, is then ground and the result is the pink powder with black specks. The heating process (which, naturally, transforms the chemical state of the minerals) and the addition of the spices give black salt its egg-y flavor.
A caveat about black salt. Apparently, not all commercially sold black salts are made from natural salt. Black salt can be synthetic and the proof lies in a court ruling that, believe it or not, stemmed from a dispute about the proper tax to be levied on black salt that was not made from natural salt.
A final caveat about black salt. There is another product that is also marketed as black salt.
Cyprus Black Lava flake salt is simply Mediterranean flake salt mixed with activated charcoal. The beautiful color is not the only benefit that the charcoal adds. It also gives it a unique taste and acts as a natural detoxifier. [Source]
The black lava salt, I have not seen much less tried.
For Manila folks, Himalayan pink salt and black salt are available at all three Indian stores at the Midtown Executive Homes along United Nations Avenue in Manila.
Many thanks to my daughter Sam for the photos.