The fundamentals of food are constantly changing from useful to useless. Take oil, which managed to morph from vegetable oil to olive oil, to truffle oil, to rapeseed oil. This is irritating, but pales in significance when compared to the troubles faced by salt. Salt is undeniably important (as in sodium chloride, not the Angelina Jolie film). It has been used as a currency for the Roman army; indeed, the word salary comes from the Latin salarium meaning ‘salt pay’. It has been used to preserve food for thousands of years. More than two hundred million tonnes of it are produced every year. A small amount of it is essential for human life, and too much of the stuff can kill you. On a more prosaic level, it makes chips amazing.
There is a problem though. The fickle, ever-morphing world of the food fad has claimed salt as its latest victim. New fashions such as this aren’t usually of great influence, and it is not surprising that gourmet delicatessens and the like will gleefully part you from your cash for an ounce of sea salt in a twee, little hessian bag. There are even dedicated gourmet salt companies such as the Maldon Salt Company, which is the official purveyor of salt to the Queen no less. However, now it seems the salt fetish has gone mainstream.
Lindt, as we all know, makes delicious chocolate: it’s just smooth Lindor choccies, and those gold bunnies with the little golden bells, yes? No. They make a bar of chocolate with actual lumps of salt in it. Why would they possibly do that? It’s like buying an exquisite Picasso painting and going to town on it with a biro. It doesn’t stop there either, as Waitrose is stocking Heston Blumenthal branded salt at a fiver a jar, in oak-smoked and vanilla flavour. I can’t even decide whether vanilla salt is designed to be applied to sweet or savoury food: either you will be bringing essence of seawater to your cupcakes, or adding a touch of vanilla to pork chops.
I’m not happy about this at all. I hope that the salt bubble will burst in the same way as truffle oil and liquid nitrogen. However, I worry that salt might become the new olive oil, and the so-called food buffs will snort in derision if anyone tries to season their food with something as lowly as table salt. Also, where does this end? If salt is becoming gentrified, does this mean the next big thing will be single estate pepper? Maybe artisan sugar will be born, or barrel-aged ketchup, or triple distilled custard? Possibly I’ve exaggerated, but hopefully you see my point: it’s not that I’m against good quality food, far from it in fact, but I think that culinary basics such as salt should remain, well, basic.
Pass the Saxa.