In Roman times, and throughout the Middle Ages, salt was a valuable commodity, also referred to as “white gold”— its value derived from its utility to preserve food, especially meat and fish.
In fact, salt was so valuable that Roman soldiers were actually paid with salt instead of money. The word “salary” exists because salt was once used as a form of payment.
Is salt vegan? Salt is vegan, and there is no reason to claim otherwise because it is never extracted from an animal source. Plus, salt is not processed with any animal derivatives, so you don’t have to worry about it not being vegan.
In this article, we break down what salt is and where it comes from, and also how it is harvested. These are all important questions for those wanting to know whether salt is vegan.
What is Salt, Exactly?
Common salt is a chemical compound composed primarily of sodium chloride (NaCI). It occurs in many parts of the world as the mineral halite and as mixed evaporites in salt lakes.
Seawater contains vast quantities of salt— it has an average of 2.6% NaCl (by weight), or 26 million metric tons per cubic kilometer. In other words, seawater is an inexhaustible supply of salt. Seawater also contains other dissolved solids, but salt represents more than 70% of the total dissolved solids.
Salt is essential for life in general (we need it for biological functions), and saltiness is one of the basic human tastes. Salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings, and salting is an important method of food preservation — which is why it was prized by ancient civilizations like the Hebrews, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Hittites, Egyptians, and the Indians.
Salt was an important commodity, so much that it was transported across the Mediterranean Sea and even the Sahara desert on camel caravans for trading purposes. Its universal need and scarcity led nations to declare war on one another and use it to raise tax revenues.
Nowadays, salt (both natural and the one made by neutralization processes) has over 14,000 uses— it plays an essential role n the making of thousands of items we use daily, including the computer you’re using to access this website, as well as the clothes you’re wearing. This, according to the Salt Association.
Different Types of Salt
Naturally, as with anything else you may encounter, salt is also available in different varieties.
Depending on the local mineral mix and evaporation methods, you’re going to get vastly different salts with different textures, flavors, and uses.
Let’s have a look at the most notable types of salt, and how they’re formed.
Among the different types of salt, I had to bring this one up because it is of vast importance for vegans.
Iodized salt is basically salt that contains small amounts of sodium iodide or potassium iodide. It’s normal salt that has been sprayed with potassium iodate.
This salt is crucial for vegans because we don’t consume fish or seafood, which is the primary source of iodine for most people, and one we avoid.
Therefore, we need to consume iodized salt, which is the most conveniently available source of iodine for vegans— you could have algae, but they’re more expensive and oftentimes might have exaggerated quantities of iodine which is dangerous if consumed regularly.
I’ve written a post specifically about iodine and iodine supplements, so if you’re interested, you can read more about it here.
This is the one you’ll find in most salt shakers— it’s a type of salt that is mined and put into water to be purified of other trace minerals, then re-dehydrated to create a uniform product.
Table salt is usually comprised of 97-99 percent sodium chloride, though it also contains anti-caking agents, some of which include iodide (not iodine), also an essential nutrient that may be removed during the purification process that occurs before the re-hydration process.
Sea salt comes directly from evaporated seawater, but depending on the area of the water and its particular mineral content, as well as the evaporation method used, sea salt can vary quite a bit.
The difference between sea salt and table salt is that sea salt is less processed than table salt and retains trace minerals. This form of salt is not fortified, so you could say it’s a more natural form of salt.
Kosher salt is basically refined salt with larger crystals than regular table salt and no additives (like iodide).
Despite being called “kosher”, there are only some brands in the world that have been certified by a hechsher as having met kosher requirements.
The name “kosher” salt derives from the fact this type of salt is used to make meats kosher, which is basically the notion of extracting blood from meat using a salting method.
Fleur de Sal (Flower Salt in English)
Fleur de sal is often considered the Cadillac of all salts— it is not crushed nor ground but harvested from the very top of saltwater ponds as the very top layer starts to crystallize.
This salt is lower in sodium than normal salt, though it has higher mineral content and light, briny flavor, hence why it’s usually used as a condiment to finish a dish rather than a seasoning.
It is originally from the Brittany coast in France, but it’s also possible to find Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese versions of this same salt, which can be used in the same way.
Sel Gris (Gray Salt, Basically)
Gray salt is derived from the same salt plains as fleur de sal, but it doesn’t have the same quality.
While fleur de sel is harvested from the top layer, gray salt is extracted from the bottom of the salt pan, which gives it a higher mineral content and a gray color.
Grey salt falls in-between regular salt and fleur de sal not only in terms of flavor but also use.
This salt has been popularized by its pink hue, which comes from having trace amounts of iron oxide, even though the salt is predominantly sodium chloride— thus not that different from regular salt.
The more popular version of this salt is the Himalayan version, which is mined in the Punjab region of Pakistan, mainly from the Khewra Salt Mine.
There is also a lesser-known version of this salt that is mined from the Andes mountains, in Bolivia.
Himalayan Black Salt
The Himalayan black salt acquires its color from the mineral greigite and its strong smell from its sulfur content— albeit called black salt, it has more of a purple-red color, to be honest.
This salt can actually be used to mimic the taste of eggs in vegan food, though, when used in exaggeration, the result may end up tasting like rotten eggs.
Hawaiian Alaea Red Salt
This type of salt is a combination of regular Hawaiian salt and red volcanic clay alaea, which some individuals claim to have detoxifying properties.
It’s used in a lot of native Hawaiian dishes, and also has been historically used in religious ceremonies.
We can use it as a finishing salt and also as a healthier alternative to regular table salt, as it has a lower sodium content.
Hawaiian Black Lava Salt
This type of salt is obtained from seawater evaporated in pools situated on hardened lava flows.
The harvested crystals are mixed with activated coconut charcoal (for purification purposes), which leaves the crystals looking like hardened lava rocks while also adding a slight sulfur aroma.
Cyprus Black Lava Salt
The Cyprus black lava salt is pretty much the same thing as the previously mentioned Hawaiian version, except this one comes from the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea.
The crystals of black lava salt form during natural solar evaporation and are mixed with activated charcoal, gaining its black appearance, as well as unique texture and taste.
Truffle salt is often used to impart a subtle amount of truffle to a dish without using actual truffle.
This type of salt is a mixture of regular salt (though other varieties can be used) and a very small amount of white or black truffles.
Truffle salt is one of the most common flavored varieties of salt.
How is Salt Harvested?
China and the United States are the two largest producers of salt— back in 2006, out of the 200 million tons of salt produced, 48 million tons were produced by China, while 46 million tons were produced by the US.
Salt can be produced one of three ways:
- Deep-shaft mining
- Solution mining
- And solar evaporation.
In the section below, we’re going to break down the three different methods.
Salt exists as deposits sitting underneath ancient underground seabeds, which have been buried due to the moving tectonic plates over the centuries.
Deep-shaft mining involves sinking shafts to the bottom of salt mines and creating rooms that are constructed by drilling, cutting, and blasting between the shafts in a checkerboard-like pattern; leaving supporting ‘pillars’ that allow operators to set up conveyor belts that transport salt to the surface.
Most of the salt obtained through deep-shaft mining is used as rock salt.
In solution mining, wells are erected over salt beds or domes (deposits of salt forced up out of the earth due to tectonic pressure) and water is injected into those wells to dissolve the salt.
The salt solution (or brine) is extracted using machinery and transported to a plant for evaporation, where it is treated to eliminate minerals and injected into vacuum pans, containers where the salt solution is boiled and evaporated until actual salt is leftover.
The salt is dried and refined using different properties like iodine or an anti-clumping agent. That, however, also depends on the type of salt that results from the entire process.
Salt can also be obtained through salt evaporation, a process in which the wind and sun evaporate the water from shallow pools, leaving the salt behind.
The salt is typically harvested once a year once the salt reaches a specific thickness. Once the salt is harvested, it is washed, drained, cleansed, and refined. This is a method that allows you to obtain pure salt, with 100 percent sodium chloride, but unfortunately, this method cannot be applied everywhere.
Only areas with low annual rainfall and high evaporation rates can have successful evaporation plants. You can find these plants in Mediterranean countries and Australia, for example.
So, Is Salt Suitable For Vegans, Or Not?
Salt is suitable for vegans.
Salt is extracted from salt deposits present in seawater and salt lakes. There is no connection between salt and animal cruelty other than the fact that salt is used to flavor or preserve meat and fish.
Unlike refined cane sugar, salt obtains its white, translucent color naturally, and it does not require the use of bleaching properties to achieve it. Some people question whether salt may be processed with bone char, but that’s certainly not the case, so you don’t have to worry about salt.
If you ought to choose between different types of salt, my recommendation would be for you to consume iodized salt because vegans don’t have a convenient source of iodine in their diet (it was previously fish), so instead of using table salt or sea salt to condiment or season your food, stick to iodized salt.