DEAR DR. BLONZ: On the subject of sea salts, I am less concerned about contaminants in Himalayan sea salt because it is 3 million years old. However, I am skeptical of, and would not knowingly use, sea salt from the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. We have traveled there a lot to scuba dive. Almost all the islands discharge raw sewage and industrial waste directly into the ocean -- the source of the seawater that can flow into evaporation ponds to make and export table salt. I am concerned that the inorganic contaminants, although present in low concentrations in the seawater, would be concentrated by the process of evaporation to salt crystals. -- B.T.
DEAR B.T.: Your experiences present reasonable sources of concern, but products meant for human consumption must be tested and found safe before being marketed in the U.S.
Seawater is not safe to drink, as it is full of impurities. That would also be the case for salt obtained directly from seawater. Sea salt approved for sale in the U.S. must undergo more than simple evaporation -- typically, a washing process sufficient to remove impurities.
Gourmet salts, like other foods, can come from protected geographical areas in which quality can vary. The output from some regions may be suitable for humans, while others may only produce salts suitable for animals. Note that if a familiar brand indicates it is for animals, it cannot be assumed safe for humans unless expressly stated on the label.
The United States and other countries have geographically protected areas for the production of certain goods. Products from these areas must meet certain standards of quality and include the name of the locale on the label. For more on such U.S. areas, called "geographical indications," see b.link/sggetj. For European Union designations, see b.link/gpmy3s.
The one thing all salts share is that they are predominantly salt (sodium chloride), with only minimal amounts of other minerals -- not nearly enough to count as good dietary sources. While the other minerals can affect how the salt tastes on the tongue, this tends to get lost when used in a recipe.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: One of your recent columns mentioned the coloring used to make "salmon pink." I'm surprised you didn't reference the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program. It provides a wealth of information about which fish -- farmed or wild -- is best to eat, which to avoid and why. You can explore seafood and the industry from different angles and read the stories behind some fishery operations. The goal is to keep the oceans, and us, healthy. The program even provides printable pocket guides to take to the market to help us make the best choices around sustainable seafood buying and eating. It's an excellent resource, and makes for some eye-opening reading. -- L.M.
DEAR L.M.: My thanks for mentioning Seafood Watch (seafoodwatch.org). It is very informative, but relies on generalities about different types of fish. There can be good, bad and ugly players all over, so it is important to check about individual purveyors to see if they are doing it right. (Having a trusted fishmonger do this for you is a plus.)
On a related note, I recommend visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium, as it provides a unique educational experience for the whole family.
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