Get Cooking: Know your salt

Sodium is a metal so unstable that it suddenly will burst into flame. By itself, chlorine is a poisonous gas. But together, they make sodium chloride, the salt with which we season our food and without which we cannot live.

“NaCl is from the only family of rocks eaten by humans,” writes Mark Kurlansky in his terrific book, “Salt: A World History.”

Try this at home: Eat the salt rocks common to the kitchen or home and stimulate some of the basic tastes available to your palate. Sodium chloride, of course, will juice up the “salty” preceptors. Potassium bitartrate, a by-product of winemaking and in most cooks’ pantries as cream of tartar, will tingle those that sense acidity or sourness. (It tastes as if you are sucking on a lemon wedge.)

A crystal of Epsom salt has an aftertaste of bitterness because that’s what magnesium sulfate, its proper salt name, does. And for that savory taste — the juicy, salivating, warming one — that we call “umami,” put a dab of MSG (monosodium glutamate) on the tongue.

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