Skip to main content

Tales told by an old sea salt

I am always amazed by the power of the word 'natural'. It can transform the most rubbish product into something desirable. And conscious though I am of this manipulation, I still feel the pull of its siren call.

The same goes for terms that imply natural. I'm a sucker for crisps that say they have 'sea salt' rather than boring old 'salt.' And yet, when we rush out and buy sea salt at inflated prices, what are we actually getting for our money?

First of all, very little difference in taste. I've never seen it done but I can predict that the best of chefs, faced with the same stew (or crisps) flavoured with sea salt and mined salt in a double blind trial couldn't taste the difference. The trouble is if they ever make the comparison they will taste a bit of fine grained mined salt and some chunky crystallized sea salt and say 'yes there's a difference' - which there is, but it's all down to texture.

Second there's the matter of purity. A lot of people go for 'natural' things (or organics, but let's not get into the travesty that is organic salt) because they have less impurities. Yet sea salt has a lot more impurities than mined salt (which also has more nasties in it than 'chemical' sodium chloride). Don't get me wrong, these impurities are at such trace levels that they can have no disbenefit, but they are there.

Finally it has just occured to me that mined salt is more natural than sea salt. Mined salt is naturally occuring salt that has been dug up out of the ground. But sea water doesn't contain salt - it contains a mix of ions. Salt is only produced when the seawater is processed. So sea salt is manufactured salt, where mined salt is natural salt. Hmmmm.

And that's the trouble with basing your choices on loaded adjectives. But it won't stop me lusting after crisps with sea salt and balsamic vinegar. What a wuss.


Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Mirror, mirror

A little while ago I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the Royal Institution in London - arguably the greatest location for science communication in the UK. At one point in the talk, I put this photograph on the screen, which for some reason caused some amusement in the audience. But the photo was illustrating a serious point: the odd nature of mirror reflections. I remember back at school being puzzled by a challenge from one of our teachers - why does a mirror swap left and right, but not top and bottom? Clearly there's nothing special about the mirror itself in that direction - if there were, rotating the mirror would change the image. The most immediately obvious 'special' thing about the horizontal direction is that the observer has two eyes oriented in that direction - but it's not as if things change if you close one eye. In reality, the distinction is much more interesting - we fool ourselves into thinking that the image behind the mirror is what's on ou