The Salt of the Earth

My microbakery, the White Horse Bakehouse, does not use industrial salt in its products, I use only Sel de Guérande, which in my opinion qualifies as The Salt of the Earth. I never use Table Salt at home, except in cleaning. You can see some slightly ground Sel de Guérande, and some coarse Sel de Guérande in the photograph I’ve included below, I use the one on the left in baking or grind the coarse version in a mill.  The first thing you will note is that sea salt shouldn’t be clear or white, it should have a colour (gray in this case).  The crystalline and pure white “sea salt” flogged by supermarkets and marketeers just isn’t the real deal folks – but table salt is the pits.

While table salt is 38.8% sodium (being about 99% sodium chloride, most of the remainder being chlorine), the Sel de Guérande I use is about 35.2% sodium, that’s about 10% less sodium. Sel de Guérande is a particular kind of sea salt made in France. It is sel gris, meaning gray salt, because it is the product of sea water evaporation powered by the sun – so it retains all the minerals in sea water. This means it also contains magnesium, potassium, calcium, manganese, copper, sulpher, zinc, iodine, flourine, cadmium and iron.

Table: Mineral content of some hand harvested Sel de Guérande from my cook shelf

Mineral      Content per 100g
Magnesium 420mg
Calcium 152mg
Iron 17.5mg

The lower sodium content of sea salt is partly because it contains more water, but also because it contains many other minerals essential for life. This contrasts with “table salt” which I do not use, which often contains an anti-caking agent agent sodium hexacyanoferrate and also as sodium ferrocyanide (E535) – see below, or even sodium aluminosilicate which contains aluminium that I suspect you’d rather avoid.  Importantly, when you take a pinch of table salt you pick up a greater weight of salt than a pinch of sel de gris, so you use less sodium if/when you season the food on your plate – this has something to do with the way in which pure sodium chloride crystals can pack together without much air between them I think, while the irregular mess of sel de gris contains more air.

Though the salt I use already contains less sodium, I am aiming for our bread to contain no more than the equivalent of about sodium chloride (common salt) during 2017. Around 17% of dietary salt comes from bread in the UK, so it is important to check that all your sources of bread do this. Guérande is a medieval town in the coastal region Loire-Atlantique in Brittany, Western France not far from Nantes.

White Horse Bakehouse uses a Sel de Guérande moulis, which is slightly finer than the coarse granular form in which sel gris is often times supplied, which means I do not employ a separate salt dissolving process when I make the dough. So, rather than sacrifice quality and nutrition to satisfy an industrial process, I select or adapt an appropriate nutritionally ingredient into a thousands of years old process.  Find out more about White Horse Bakeshouse on our Facebook Group.

Why I don’t use salt containing E535 – or “Sodium Ferrocyanide is not food”
These pale yellow crytasls are also used as a stabilizer for the coating on welding rods – and no, it isn’t food and I don’t think it should be in food – do you? The material safety data sheet for E535  clearly states it is extremely hazardous if ingested, and is a skin and eye irritant, toxic to blood, lungs, mucous membranes and can cause organ damage. It decomposes at 435ºC, so would decompose in pizza dough cooked at the recommended temperature 475-500ºC, releasing highly toxic fumes of cyanides/ferrocyanides. Best avoid.


About jonnyr9

I'm an enthusiastic amateur "scientific" cook and baker, and former scientist, and I like to bring scientific thinking to my cooking: thinking about what might be happening at a chemical or biological level during food preparation (including its growth, and preservation), and applying exact methods of mass and volume to core recipes, before varying them. I use an accurate weighing scale (to 0.1g). I like growing my own herbs, constructing my own raised beds, and constructing my own wood-fired pizza oven. I bring a certain level of OCD to the kitchen, and therefore my baking includes sourdough, and my pizza-making includes "reference" to the protected specifications for true pizza. If I can source "the right" ingredients for a dish, I will at almost any length (within reason) - before I find an equivalent in-country supplier. Therefore - if you've never eaten Lancashire cheese bought at Bury market near Manchester - you've never eaten Lancashire cheese. I'm going to try to include links to the same products I use in my blog, so my readers don't end up using sub-standard alternatives - "experimental replication" is key to scientific cooking. I was born in the North of England, but I live in the South, though I would prefer to live on an island in the Ionian Sea.
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