A Guide to Seasoning Without Salt
So, you're trying to cut some salt out of your diet. The reason may be because you hear all about the bad things salt does to your body, or maybe because your doctor told you that it's medically necessary. Great, now your food has lost all flavor, right? "I probably won't ever eat tasty food again," you think.
Salt is an essential part of the human diet and the body. Too much salt however can cause damage. Sodium forces you to retain water, which puts extra pressure on your blood vessels and forces your heart to work harder to pump blood. Plenty of food has sodium in it already, so you don't want to add any extra! Herbs and spices will help you make flavorful dishes without maxing out your daily sodium allotment in one sitting. So yes, you will eat tasty food again, without all that added stress on your heart.
You are more unaware of how much salt you are eating than you think you are! The American diet is loaded with sodium from all the processed foods we tend to eat. Frozen meals, which are marketed at busy families who want something quick to make for dinner, are often full of sodium. Sometimes one serving of a frozen macaroni and cheese can have as much as 30% of the daily amount of sodium recommended for a person. We all know that no one ever eats a single serving of macaroni and cheese. Eating these foods occasionally is okay, but there are many college students and single parent families that rely on these meals nightly. Cooking fresh food is the best way to control how much sodium is in your diet, and seasoning food without salt is another good helper.
Seasoning Without Salt
When you begin cooking without salt, at first it may seem a little intimidating. Some people have become habitual salters- adding the mineral without tasting the food first, or worse yet, adding it simply because it is what they have always done. Do either of these scenarios describe you? A lot of mainstream recipes use salt to improve flavor or reduce bitterness of a dish, but they forget about all the other beautiful spices available to delight the senses. Salt has become a real catch all for improving flavor, much to the dismay of chefs all over the world.
Herbs and spices are perfect for boosting your food's flavor and giving you a better experience. These boosts can help you truly enjoy your food. If you stop and eat slowly, you will discover that your food tastes so much better than you ever thought it could. When you use fresh spices, this sensation is even better than if you would have used something from the grocery store, as these spices are usually not the freshest.
What Spices Can be Used as a Substitute for Salt?
There is no spice that exactly imitates the way salt tastes, but there are some that have similar profiles, which can be akin to salt. When looking for salt substitutes, one of the first things people tend to encounter is the suggestion that lemon juice can replace salt in a lot of recipes and people will frequently say that these dishes taste better than their saltier counterparts. It is thought that salt brings out the flavor of food by tying up the water in the food elsewhere- so your tongue can easily taste the enhanced flavors of the food without being distracted by the water content. Lemon juice acts similarly, but it can only be used in certain dishes.
Instead of worrying about what spices taste like salt, you could try out some spices that will instead make your food more flavorful in different ways. You may find you prefer these in comparison to salt.
If you are looking to freshen up a dish and bring some brightness to it, Parsley is an excellent choice. Instead of bogging down your soups or stews with even more sodium than they probably already have, give them a nice lift with this herb.
Ginger is wonderful for flavoring meats and seafood. It has a sort of spicy flavor that is a step outside of the salty realm but is especially good if you want to compliment the flavors of the meat and not necessarily overwhelm them, which salt can sometimes do.
If you are the kind of person who loves to salt thick, juicy tomato slices before eating them, try Basil instead. This flavor combination is similar to salt in the way that the savory flavor of the tomato is enhanced by the sweetness of the basil leaves. Basil does the same thing for roasted vegetables, too.
Instead of salting your spaghetti, use Spearmint to enhance its flavors. The cooling sensation of the mint is good with the richness of tomato sauce.
Cinnamon is excellent with whole grains like quinoa.
Garlic goes on nearly everything, with the only exception we can think of being sweets. You probably weren't too concerned about salting your ice cream though, so this is completely okay. Garlic is just a really tasty ingredient that helps any savory dish get some oomph into it.
Onion does the same thing for many savory dishes that garlic does. You want to enhance the flavors of a dish, not mask them or drown them out, and onion is a great complimentary flavor for a lot of foods. Meat, root vegetables, and soups all benefit from the addition of onion.
Lemongrass is usually found in Asian dishes, but can go well with soups, stews, and on meats as a salt substitute.
These spices are great for starting out with, plus they are approachable and for the most part familiar to your mouth already. This will help you ease into seasoning without salt. If you are curious about what spices have a salty taste, the answer is that none of them do, really. The spices we have suggested above for use as alternatives are those which enhance the dish and give good flavor boosts, eliminating the need to add salt to the dish altogether.
Is MSG a good Salt Substitute?
Since what you're really trying to cut down when eliminating salt from your diet is sodium, not exactly salt, you want to avoid MSG too. Sodium is in salt- actually, about 40% of salt is sodium, the other approximately 60% is chloride. MSG is not a good substitute for this- after all, sodium is right in the name. MSG is the acronym for Monosodium Glutamate. Plus, MSG has a bunch of controversies surrounding it on its own, so it is best to avoid it altogether, but especially if you have a salt-restrictive diet.
If you are still hesitant about adding your own combination of spices to your food, you could try out some seasoning blends to give yourself a feel for the complex flavors available to you. We have plenty of salt free blends that you can choose from to start seasoning for yourself.
As with all things food, experimentation and patience is key. It will take time for your palette to cleanse itself of the desire for a lot of salt, but the time is worth it. When you open up to the world of other spices, you find that there are so many interesting flavors out there. It is especially wonderful when you find a combination that you absolutely love and can go back to over again, without worrying about salt.