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Should Salt Shakers Be Removed from the Table?

October 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

by Mommy MD Guide Ayala Laufer-Cahana, MD

Setting the table was my first contribution to the family food making effort as a little girl, and the first task my kids participated in in my own home (I hate calling it a chore – makes a job that can be delightful and creative sound so boring.) A basic set table to me has plates, glasses, cutlery, napkins, salt and pepper.

But now, many restaurants are omitting the salt shaker. The New York Times brought in chefs, health experts and others to debate this trend.

I suppose that most restaurants that do away with the salt shaker do so because they feel the food’s already properly seasoned, and that the chef is responsible for the final taste and deserves full control over the finished product. I don’t think hypertension is on their mind.

Chef Kevin Sbraga does not put salt on the table in his Philadelphia Sbraga. He thinks that the guests should expect to get the food properly salted, and he says, “Ultimately, it might be a control thing. I want to have as much say in our guest experience as possible, even when it comes down to the salt.”

Mary Sue Milliken of the Border Grill restaurants offers the same reasoning and doesn’t automatically provide salt at the table.

On the other hand, Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster Harlem thinks it’s not for him to force his salt preferences on his diners.

None of the chefs in this piece took the salt shaker off the table for health reasons. Indeed, Thomas Farley, New York City’s Health commissioner – who has waged a war on the salt excess in our diet and is a big proponent of salt reduction – is on good terms with the salt shaker: “The salt shaker is not the culprit. Only about 10 percent of the sodium in our diet comes from salt we add to food while cooking or eating. Most of the salt we consume is already in food when we buy it. In fact, foods that don’t even taste salty, like bread, are among the top sources of sodium in our diets.”

Salt to taste

Too much salt can have detrimental effects on blood pressure, especially in vulnerable populations, and there is no doubt that the American diet contains excess salt – added for a multitude of reasons some unrelated to taste – and salt clearly belongs on the ‘foods to reduce’ list.

Salt, on the other hand, is an amazing ingredient. It is an essential nutrient we can’t do without; it not only flavors food, it is also a taste enhancer and taste modifier, and a natural preservative that keeps foods from spoilage.

But how much salt is just enough salt for perfect flavor? To that — I beg to differ from the salt-controlling chefs — there is no right answer.

Salt sensitivity and preference varies from person to person, and depends on the foods we regularly eat. Evidence shows that we develop a preference to a certain level of saltiness through repeated exposure. Raise a kid on very little added salt, and his taste buds will sense just a few flakes; raise him on fast food and food will taste bland unless it’s generously salted. Evidence shows we are born liking some saltiness, but salt level preference depends on exposure.

So chef isn’t necessarily an authority on the perfect salt level. No one is.

I rarely add salt at the restaurant table, but when I want another grain of salt I hate having to ask – and wait – for it, and for me, a table is not set without it. Salt just belongs at the table, and has been part of how we welcome guests for a very long time. Please, do stop this saltless trend. And if I can, one more pet peeve: please don’t clear plates when other diners are still eating; it is rude, and interrupts the mood and the conversation.

Do you miss the salt shaker when it isn’t there?

Dr. Ayala is a pediatrician, mother, artist, serious home cook, and founder of Herbal Water Inc., in Wynnewood, PA. Dr. Ayala is known for her extensive knowledge of nutrition and food, as well as her practical approach to improving health and preventing obesity and disease.

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