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sea salt / how to make your own gomasio

We cannot live without a small, but critical amount of salt. All red-blooded animals must have a continual supply of the essential elements it naturally contains in order to maintain a strong and healthy condition.

Historically, salt was found by following animals as they sought out salt licks, or deposits. Villages were then built close by. As humans evolved and began to eat more grains and less animal foods, (which themselves contain large amounts of salt), man had to begin relying on other sources. Therefore, in areas not close to the oceans, salt became very precious. It was considered so important that it was used in the payment of wages to Roman soldiers; this is the origin of the word salary. In later years salt became one of the world's principal trading commodities. Around the 6th century many desert merchants were trading it as an equivalent value for gold.

Salt taxes variously solidified or helped dissolve the power of governments. For centuries the French people were forced to buy all of their salt from royal depots. The gabelle, or salt tax, was so high during the reign of Louis XVI that it became a major grievance and eventually helped to ignite the French Revolution. As late as 1930, in protest against the high British tax on salt in India, Mahatma Gandhi led a mass pilgrimage of his followers to the seaside to make their own salt.

The necessity of salt may have helped start the French Revolution, but it shortened the American Civil War. According to The History of Salt, "If the South had been able to protect its salt supply, the Civil War might have ended differently. Syracuse (New York) production freed the North of all salt worries, but in 1861 southerners were already paying a dollar per pound for the little salt available. By 1863 they couldn't but salt at any price; Kanawha (Virginia) salt factories changed hands four times and finally fell to Union forces in 1862. Salville, Virginia, was also lost before the war ended.

Avery Island, Louisiana, had furnished some salt to Jackson's forces fighting the Battle of New Orleans following the War of 1812; and during the Civil War the South had hopes of using Avery rock salt deposits. However, rivers and sea lanes were cut off, and finally the Avery Island mine was taken by Union troops. Union ships blockaded the Atlantic coast stopping importation of foreign salt. In desperation, southerners tried to make salt from ocean brine along the Florida and Carolina coasts. As an inducement the salt makers were exempted from military service.

Thus we can clearly see that salt is more than a mere condiment or flavoring to man; it is vitally important in mainaining a healthy body. Why then are so many sick people put on salt-free diets? How did misunderstanding come about? The following are some of the main reasons for salt's bad reputation:

  1. The salt which people are using today is literally poisonous. About 50 years ago the major salt companies in the United States, in order to speed production, began to dry their salt in huge kilns. The temperatures in these giant ovens reaches 1,200 degrees Farenheit, which is high enough to alter salt's chemical structure. This structural change of salt is one of the reasons that degenerative diseases, such as heart disease and arthritis, have become so prevalent in the U.S.

  2. Prepared foods sold today contain a lot of common refined salt which is added during processing. People who eat these foods are consuming large "hidden" amounts of poor-quality salt, used chiefly to give flavor to otherwise flavorless, over-processed food. Fast food producers use enormous amounts of this salt also, to ensure that their food is "tasty."

  3. Many people consume large quantities of animal food, which contain relatively high amounts of naturally-occurring sodium. Those who eat animal foods frequently should greatly restrict other sources of salt, but seldom do. (However, those that don't eat much of these foods need to be sure that they have a good source of high-quality salt.)

  4. Those who frequently eat such fatty foods as cheese, chicken, beef, and eggs often have high cholesterol levels and fat deposits in their blood vessels, which impede the circulatory system. If these people take even slightly too much salt, especially if it is of poor quality and not combined with organic matter, or chelated, it constricts the circulatory system even more, making the blood pressure too high. There is then the very real danger of bursting capillaries or blood vessels.

  5. There is a common belief that salt is responsible for water retention, but this is a misunderstanding. Fluid levels in the body are governed by osmotic pressure, which exists between liquids when they are separated by a membrane through which water can pass. If the concentration of salt is higher in the blood of the blood vessels than in the intercellular fluid (or fluid between the cells), water moves out of the intercellular fluid and into the blood stream. So we see that high salt intake results in fluid loss. Conversely, if the concentration of salt in the blood is lower than in the intercellular fluid, water will move from the bloodstream to the intercellular fluid. In this case one retains water.

The common table salt commercially available today is purified sodium chloride, or NaCl, with dextrose sugar and an anti-caking agent - usually silicate - added. Natural sea salt is also mostly NaCl. However, the big difference is that it still contains about 4% of mixed sea minerals, which are extremely important for body function and development. This is a serious matter today because the minerals in our topsoil and thus our food is being depleted by commercial farming techniques, in which we no longer cooperate with nature.

Following are recommendations on the balanced, or macrobiotic, use of salt.

  1. The correct amount of salt to use in cooking is one of the most critical issues in macrobiotics. This is because the sodium (Na) to potassium (K) ratio is the main factor affecting the yin/yang quality of food and sodium is the main component of salt. One who has eaten a lot of animal products in the past will probably not do well eating salty foods. However, not enough salt in the diet causes the body to become weak, sluggish, and prone to yin-typeillnesses. Everone must find the amount of salt which brings them, as an individual, to their best condition. If you are served foods that are too salty for your condition, have only a little, even though they are usually very tasty. Eat more grain, salad, or lightly seasoned dishes instead. Doing this helps avoid excess salt which would later cause an attraction to too much liquid, sweets, or other yin food, in an attempt to balance it. Too much salt for your condition will often eventually lead to kidney troubles, because of its yang constricting effect, especially on these usually overworked organs. Generally, the harder you work physically, (which is yinnizing), the more salt you can consume. However, as in all aspects of a balanced diet, one should practice moderation.

  2. In eating macrobiotically, one should not use plain, raw salt. Crystallized salt is used only in cooking so that it will be combined with oil or other organic matter. This process is known as chelation, and prevents the salt from overstimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which activates the yin or hollow organs (intestines, bladder, etc.) This is the reason why in macrobiotics we use sesame salt, or gomasio, as a table condiment. In this condiment the salt is covered with sesame oil through the process of grinding as it is made. Soy sauce / shoyu / tamari and miso also both have salt chelated with other compounds. One should cook food at least 20 minutes after adding salt. This allows enough time for chelation of the salt with other components of the food to take place, and the dish will then be flavorful but not taste salty. Your cooking, when done correctly, will have a subtly sweet taste. When it occurs naturally - without using processed foods such as sugar - the sweet taste is the most balanced of the five flavors.

  3. Sodium (Na) is the strongest alkaline-forming mineral. Therefore, the use of salt (NaCl) in cooking, pickling, or aging foods makes them very alkaline-forming to the body fluids upon digestion. This is one reason why vegetables fermented with salt are an important part of a macrobiotic diet. Since sickness is often the result of an acidic condition of body fluids, the proper use of salt is very beneficial, if not curing, to many illnesses. In the author's opinion, without the proper use of salt there can be no control of cancer growth.

  4. Salt helps give strong resistance to infectious and bacterial diseases. In the author's experience, people with an adequate salt intake have strong immune systems, and therefore are resistant to infectious diseases. However, salt from animal foods does not seem to have this effect, probably due to meat's overal strongly acid-forming characteristic.

  5. People who don't eat animal foods should consume some salt from other sources. Otherwise they may lose their natural resistance to bacteria and create and interal condition suitable for paradistes or viruses (worms, herpes, etc.). Also, someone who eats a no-salt vegetarian diet will often become introverted and docile, and tend to be alienated from society - which are all symptoms of an overly yin condition.

  6. Sodium participates in the conducting of nerve impulses and also affects the contraction of muscles. This ability to contract, or yang power, is what enables all muscles to perform efficiently. The functions of the muscles range from the strong rhythmic beating of the heart and the peristaltic motion of the digestive tract, to the fine muscular adjustments which focus the eye. If salt intake is inadequate, muscles lose their tone, which is to say their contractive, yang ability is weakened.

  7. Salt is highly important to the digestive process. In the stomach the chlorine in salt becomes a major constituent of the hydrochloric acid necessary for digestion. Sodium and chlorine also both become part of the extracellular tissue fluids in the body.

  8. Sodium aids in the production of bile, which makes possible the assimilation of fat in the intestine. The proper digestion and utilization of fat is very important in preventing it from accumulating in the body.

  9. Salt is employed by the body as a carrier for iodine, which in very small quantities is needed to prevent thyroid difficulties, such as goiter, which is caused by a lack of iodine and affects the metabolic rate of the entire body.

Despite the fact that a certain amount of good quality salt is necessary for health, it is most important to exercise in moderation. "Moderation in all things, including moderation, is a most sensible rule to follow, and certainly applies to your use of the salt of the earth." ~ Sea of Life

~ Basic Macrobiotics, Herman Aihara

p i c t u r e d : variation with organic black sesame seeds & sea salt in suribachi...

how to make your own gomasio
  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 1/3 Tbsp. sea salt

  • Wash seeds, place in a dry skillet and roast over a low flame. Stainless steel skillets work best, since cast iron skillets take longer to heat up; but once they do, they become very hot and heat longer. Stir constantly with a rice paddle or wooden spoon, shaking the pan occasionally so that seeds will roast evenly. Roast until they give off a nutty fragrance, turn golden brown and begin to pop. They should be easily crushable if you squeeze them between your thumb and index finger.

    Remove the seeds immediately from the skillet to prevent burning, and place in a suribachi. Add sea salt and grind slowly with even, gentle pressure in a circular motion until each seed is about half-crushed. Store in a glass jar. Sprinkle on grains, etc.

    Use much less salt in children's gomashio. Adults should generally use a proportion of one part salt to 8-14 parts seeds. Gomashio is an excellent way to take in salt, as the oil from the seeds coats and balances the more yang salt. It is very high in calcium, iron, and Vitamin A and B, and also aids in digestion.

    Make gomashio in small amounts every week or week and a half. If it is not prepared slowly and patiently and in the proper way, it will not keep for long periods.

    - From Macrobiotic Cooking For Everyone by Edward & Wendy Esko

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