Tuesday April 10, 2012 | 11:35 AM
I grew up afraid of salt.

It wasn't that I feared the granules would creep out from their cylindrical home, repel down the shaker's sides, spill from the counter top like some salty waterfall, then hunt me down where I slept with tiny, salt-sized spears.

I was just afraid of high blood pressure. And bloating. Can't forget the bloating.

Salt was the devil when I was young. He hid in processed foods. And we ate a lot of processed foods. He added up. He caused hypertension. He caused water retention.

So I avoided the stuff, never daring to dash, always skipping the sprinkle. I wouldn't even make eye contact with the shaker on the table. Salt was dead to me.

No wonder my food tasted dead to me too.

salt_salt_570.jpg

I've since learned the error of my ways. Salt, I heard it said recently, is a magnifying glass for flavor. It's essential to cooking. It makes bland food more flavorful and flavorful food even flavorfulier.

"How to salt food is the most important thing to know in the kitchen," writes Michael Ruhlman in his book, "Ruhlman's Twenty: 20 Techniques, 100 Recipes, A Cook's Manifesto." Salt makes the difference between "meh" and "magnificent!"

Don't believe Ruhlman? Try it. Salt something - a tomato slice, he suggests. Taste it. Taste a slice that's salted and one that isn't. You'll see. If you're still not convinced, take a hint from TV show "Modern Family," and put some salt in your chocolate milk. It'll change your world.

If the notion still frightens you, ease into it. Take it slow. Get to know your salt. Take it out to dinner, find out what it likes. Let it tell you how it's been harvested since 6050 BC, or how it was included in funeral offerings in ancient Egypt. Or how its preservative powers enable food to last longer and travel farther, enabling little things like world exploration.

Some other salt wonders:

- Salt was once used as a method of trade and currency. Roman soldiers were paid with salt, or given money to purchase salt, hence the phrase, "worth his salt." It's also where the word "salary" comes from.

- Salt is a keeper. I mean as in a preservative. Ruhlman notes that if you bring home fresh meat and salt it straight away before storing it in the fridge, it'll last longer before going south - which means that orphaned chicken breast might actually, for once, get cooked instead of chucked. Your meat will also be more evenly seasoned, since the salt will have time to penetrate.

- Kosher salt isn't called kosher because it's made according to kosher guidelines outlined in the Torah. It's considered "koshering" salt, good for treating meat and with a grain size larger than table salt. While some kosher salts might have small amounts of added anti-clumping agents, it's typically additive-free. It's also easier to manage - the larger granules are easier to control and measure with your fingers.

- It's not very nice to salt a slug.

All that salt talk making you thirsty? And by "thirsty" I mean thirsty for more salt talk? Of course! Check out this Guide to Salt on wholefoodsmarket.com

About the Author

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Shannon Bryan is a feature writer for the Portland Press Herald and content producer for MaineToday Media's entertainment website, www.mainetoday.com.

And here's a well-known truth: Shannon can't cook. She's also ostroconophobic (in Maine?!?), but in a foodie place like southern Maine, she's determined to learn how to cook, eat, and order with the best of them. Read about her culinary crusade:
Pans on fire

She's also an investigator into all that's strange and entertaining to do around here. Those findings are gathered here:
Out Going: Things to do in southern Maine

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