All about salt: An Ayurvedic perspective


Salt has been used worldwide for centuries. As the oldest form of seasoning, it is well known as a culinary staple. However, it may surprise you to learn that salt has also been used medicinally for thousands of years. It is a key ingredient in several classical Ayurvedic formulas, such as hingvastak, to promote digestion or clear congestion. 

Despite the many benefits of this mineral, salt has been questioned and demonized by the modern medical system. But eliminating salt, or reducing it too much, can have great consequences.

From a holistic perspective, salt itself is not the problem. It is when salt is overused, misused or used in a highly refined form (commonly called table salt) that health issues arise. Use this gift from nature in appropriate amounts and you’ll find it has tremendous benefits. 

​The different types of salt

Not all salt is the same. What our ancestors knew as salt is quite different from what is most commonly available to us. Formerly a naturally mined element taken from the seas or ancient sea beds, salt is now most often a highly processed commodity more fitting for industrial use than in cooking. Despite the popularity of table salt, there are still plenty of forms of natural salt that you can find at most natural food stores.

Here is a breakdown of the three main types of salt found today:

  1. Table salt is a highly processed food. It has been refined to contain greater amounts of sodium than natural forms of salt (it is 99.85% sodium chloride). In addition to chemicals used in the refining process, table salt also contains additives. These may include anti-caking agents, aluminum, fluoride and iodine, as well as other chemicals that stabilize these additions. While these additives are not listed on the packaging, their presence creates ama, or toxins, in the body. Due to its high sodium content, table salt tastes the strongest and is the most heating of all the types of salt.

  2. Sea salt can be made in one of two ways. The first is to simply dry sea water in the sun. This method, which has been used for centuries all around the world, leaves behind small crystals of various shapes and sizes. With a briny taste, sea salt is a good option for daily use. There is another less desirable method to get sea salt called desalination. Desalination is a process of removing salt from seawater primarily for industrial use or to supply drinking water. Many chemicals are used for this process, resulting in a form of salt that is less pure. If you buy sea salt, choose a variety that is naturally harvested.

  3. Mineral salt, also called rock salt, is harvested from ancient sea beds that have dried over thousands of years. It is mined from mountains (one of the most popular varieties is pink Himalayan salt), then washed and dried in a natural process. One of the great benefits of mineral salt is that it contains trace minerals. Humans have historically taken in these trace minerals from food grown in rich soil, but too often commercially-grown food comes from overworked soil. For this reason, mineral salt is our preference for cooking. Mineral salt is also our preference for the practice of neti, as it clears excess mucus and supports respiratory health.

For the purposes of this article (as well as in all of our recipes), assume that when we refer to salt, we are talking about either mineral salt or naturally harvested sea salt. 

​The benefits of mineral or sea salt

Salt is used medicinally in Ayurveda, particularly in cases where vata dosha has gone out of balance. Salt is made up of the fire and water elements, and small amounts regulate moisture levels in the body, promote better absorption of nutrients from food, regulate blood pressure and are vital to the functioning of the brain and nervous system. However, higher amounts result in kapha imbalance (such as edema), hypertension, kidney disorders, osteoporosis and other issues. 

Salt is best known as a culinary aid. When used in cooking, it enhances flavor and softens food to make it more easily assimilated in the body. But another reason that salt has earned its kitchen staple status is because it stimulates digestive enzymes. 

​How to cook with salt for balance and health

One of the best things about salt is its ability to improve the taste of food. However, this is also why salt is overused when the senses are in the driver’s seat. 

We use salt in all our cooking, even when we bake Ayurvedic cookies, because it lifts the taste of all the other ingredients. The key is using moderate amounts and cooking it into your food. 

Using the right amount of salt allows the taste to blend with the other tastes present in the foods. You’ll know if you’ve used too much salt if your meal tastes, well, salty. About ⅛ teaspoon or less per person is all a dish needs. This amount of salt allows the taste of the food to become a more vibrant version of all the ingredients. 

Cooking salt is key to unlocking its flavor-enhancing abilities. While it is common to see salt shakers on dining tables, salting food after it has been cooked (even with mineral salt) is too harsh for the body. Salt is quite heating and eating it this way concentrates the effects and will cause pitta imbalance. In addition, salting your food after cooking numbs the taste buds. While cooking salt into food brings out the subtleties of the tastes in your meal, salting at the table does the opposite. 

​Don’t forget the salt

Right use of salt is a necessary component of any Ayurvedic kitchen. To incorporate salt in your cooking, use this tip we give to our Simple Ayurvedic Cooking students:
Warm your pan, add the ghee or oil first, then the salt, then the spices and let it simmer together for about a minute.
Following this method ensures that you won’t ever forget to add the salt. 

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