Swedish Salty Licorice

Image by /kallu It's unfathomable to most, coveted by some. Enthusiasts keep an emergency stash of the stuff in their purse; others take a nibble and promptly spit it out. It elicits passion, nostalgia, pain, discomfort, and satisfaction.

Ah, yes, Swedish salty licorice.

Swedish candy is notoriously fantastic, but salted licorice is the black sheep of the otherwise delectable family of gummy sweets. The stuff is potent and undoubtedly polarizing.

Licorice itself is the root of a plant called Glycyrrhiza glabra that is native to Spain, Italy, and Asia. The plant contains a component that is 20-40 times sweeter than sugar, so it is logical flavoring option for candy.

No one quite knows how or why licorice candy was first combined with a salty flavor, but its history as a confectionary began in Scandinavia in the 1930s. Salted licorice, however, doesn’t actually contain any salt. The brininess comes from the chemical ammonium chloride, so salted licorice is often called salmiakki, the Finish word for ammonium chloride. Modern salty licorice ranges in color from light brown to deep black, and it may be chewy or hard. Salted licorice is popular in Sweden, of course, as well as The Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, and Germany.

Image by Accidental Hedonist

What is so enticing about salted licorice for Scandinavians? Consider the classic dishes gravlax or pickled herring. Bitter saltiness is deeply embedded in Scandinavian cuisine and home cooking, so a salty flavor is intertwined with notions of comfort and home. Curing meat and fish with salt during the long winter months is standard practice for many Scandinavians in past and present time, so an affinity for salt is deeply rooted in the Scandinavian palette.

On the other hand, salty licorice could merely exist as national entertainment. Many Scandinavians admit to enjoy feeding salty licorice to tourists just to watch them squirm. Some say it’s almost a national sport!

Most Swedes consume salted licorice as typical candy, but many also enjoy Turkish Pepper Shots, which are hard salted licorice popped into a shot of vodka. If you’re hooked to the flavor, it’s easy to want to infuse everything with salmiakki. However, too much licorice can cause a spike in blood pressure, so be careful not to overdo it.

Salty licorice is a unique treat for a large part of the world. It acts to demonstrate the diversity of global food preferences and the fascinating ways in which tastes are formed through the forces of climate, culture, and ecology.

Have you ever tried salty licorice? What was your experience like?


4 Types of Salt and How to Use Them

Photo: QuintanaRoo Marcus likes to mix things up when he’s cooking by throwing surprise flavors into traditional dishes. However, he never denies,  knowing the basics of preparing food is the first step to learning the art of cooking. That's why in this post I want to get back to basics and explain the differences between the varying salts on the shelves of your local grocery store. Here are four different easy-to-find varieties, with tips on what they are and when to use them.

Kosher Salt. Kosher works splendid as a basic table salt, and is great to use when you are cooking or baking. It dissolves quickly and disperses fast, so chefs recommend sprinkling it on everything from chicken to chocolate. The most notable brands of Kosher salt include Morton and Diamond Crystal. However, Diamond is the more popular brand among foodies due to its natural crystal texture. Generally, these brands cost around a $1 a pound and can be found in every supermarket, general store, and bodega.

Photo: stlbites.com

Sea Salt. The sea variety of salt adds a more pungent briny flavor to just-cooked foods. Nevertheless, this variety can add an unevenly dispersion of the brackish flavor; therefore this one is best reserved as an addition to a dish after it is finished. These crystals will complement any prepared food set on the table. The color depends on the mineral content of the salt marshes. The pigments range from white to dark red. As of late, sea salt has moved from being only found at gourmet shops to being established at all local super markets.

Photo: jeffreyw

Black Salt. A pungent variety that blends sea salt with activated charcoal. You do not want to use black salt in place of the table variation or your dish will take on a strong, salty, sulfur taste, so use sparingly. I like to sprinkle it on Frittatas, tofu, or blue cheese. You can find black salt at health food stores and all artisan markets.

Smoked Salt. This aromatic edible salt product contains added smoke flavor. The best varieties have acquired their taste by being smoked over wood fires, but be careful, some types use chemicals to obtain the thick flavor, leaving a strong after taste. The colors vary from light gray to dark brown. Smoked salt lends a barbecue character to anything it is scattered on including peaches, corn-on-the-cob, and fish. My favorite quality brand is Frontier medium grind smoked sea salt found at most local markets or online at frontiercoop.com.

Why Bread Might Be the Cause for Your High Blood Pressure

Many Americans consume more sodium than they know. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that claims that nine out of 10 Americans eat too much salt.

According to the report, the average person consumes around 3,300 milligrams of sodium daily. The figure, which does not include the amount of added salt to a meal, exceeds twice the recommended intake for half of Americans. Those who are 51 and older, African-American or have high blood pressure or kidney disease are advised to consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.

Sodium is responsible for increases in blood pressure and has been responsible for numerous health problems, including strokes and heart disease. In fact, the effects of high consumption of sodium go beyond health-related issues. The country reportedly spent approximately $273 billion in health care money on such health problems in 2010.

"Heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death in the United States and are largely dependent on the high rate of blood pressure," said CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden.

As Reuters reported last week, at least 10 different kinds of food account for 44 percent of daily salt intake, and bread appears to be the major culprit. Though bread may not have much salt in one single serving, regular consumption of this popular staple often contributes to high sodium levels. A slice of white bread, for instance, already contains close to 230 milligrams of salt.

In order to combat high sodium intake and its health-related effects, the CDC encourages Americans to eat more vegetables and fruits. They should also choose products that have the lowest salt content.

"One of the things that is driving blood pressure up is that most adults in this country eat or drink about twice the amount of sodium as is recommended," Frieden said. "Most of that extra sodium comes from common grocery store and restaurant items and a very small proportion from the salt shaker at the table."

Salty Consequences: Americans Consuming Far Too Much Salt

Pop quiz:  What is the one ingredient to most any food that everyone worldwide can agree is necessary?  I'll give you a hint-it's the 6th most abundant compound on Earth.  Still perplexed?  Here's another-it begins with an "S" and ends in "alt".

Salt makes everything taste better; it preserves foods; it's essential for normal bodily functions.  There's only one problem:  humans consume way, way too much of it.  In fact, according to a CDC report, Americans consume almost 90 percent more sodium than the body actually needs and at least twice as much as the highest recommended level.

I personally sometimes enjoy a touch of salt in my beer... only when it needs it, of course.  So what if I am a self-proclaimed 'Saltiere' by putting a touch of salt on everything I eat, sometimes what I drink, and may even be in the habit of salting before tasting.  What's the big deal?  I am the salt of the earth.  I thought I was just being me, which just happens to be salt... I guess.

The truth is sodium helps maintain fluid levels in our blood cells, helps our small intestine absorb certain nutrients, and it is used as a catalyst to transmit information in our nerves and muscles.  On the other side of the spectrum, it causes blood pressure to rise and 860,000 Americans die annually from salty diet related illness.  860,000!  Let that stew for a bit.

Whether eating for luxury or necessity, taste obviously plays an important role in how we choose our diet.  At what point did the need for flavor replace our drive to survive?

To answer this question, take a journey with me through time and space!  For thousands of years salt was equal in value with gold.  India developed an entirely separate caste of salt-diggers, while the Romans planned their conquests based off of salt resources (a strong and reliable tactic to say the least).  Native North and South Americans had rich saltworks well before Europeans arrived, and these salty locations played a major role in colonial plans of manifest destiny.  Salt is the main catalyst for world trade and globalization, period.

Now, in the 21st century, we have become like King Midas where everything we touch turns too salty.  And though that's what we thought we wanted, our salty desires are killing us and our children. Given our history, it makes perfect sense to have the mentality of using salt when it's available, just as people who lived through the Great Depression never waste anything (the tiny drop of jelly at the bottom of the jar, a few random pieces of cloth, nothing).  It's ingrained in our cultures so deeply, over-salting our food is as reflexive as chewing it.

So what can we do about it?  Given that the main sources of America's high sodium levels are from processed foods (canned, frozen, etc.) and restaurants, cooking from scratch and experimenting with different spices is the best chance we have of reducing our sodium intake.  Otherwise, we will just have to be mindful of how much sodium our food contains and do our best to pick from the lower end of that spectrum-that is, only if life is worth its weight in salt.

Dylan Rodgers is a writer with dreams of existential understanding and lyrical nonsense.  Share with him in the well of human experience @ dylangers.wordpress.com.

5 Homemade Skin Exfoliants Made From Your Kitchen!

Photo: cottonseedoil on flickr
Spring means it's time to exfoliate away the winter and let your skin glow. But don't worry, you don't need spend much in order to attain healthy skin. Here are a few ways to find ingredients in your own kitchen to make homemade skin exfoliants.

Use these exfoliants by applying to your face in circular motions and leave on for about 15 minutes. After you wash it off, be sure to apply a good moisturizer or sunscreen as your skin will need to be protected once you go out in the sun. And don't go overboard, these exfoliant should be used only 2-3 times a week. Also, read here about why you should drink lemon water for great looking skin.

* The Basic Kitchen Exfoliant: Starting out with the simplest recipe, combine 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Baking soda will help polish the skin while the sea salt exfoliates. You can also add in some olive oil, which helps to soothe irritation and inflammation.

* Oats, Honey, and Apple Vinegar Exfoliant: If you're feeling more adventurous, take 2-3 teaspoons of raw oats and pulverize them in a grinder. Take the ground oats and mix in honey (the amount depends on how viscous you want the mix to be) and 1/4 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar until it creates a smooth texture. Add in 1 drop of basil oil or tea tree oil, which will help your skin heal faster. Try drinking this oat and kale smoothie for even more beauty benefits from the inside out.

* Argan Oil Exfoliant: Mix together 1 teaspoon crushed almonds, 1/2 teaspoon honey, 1/2 teaspoon milk, 1/2 teaspoon tomato juice and a few drops of argan oil. Argan oil is made from the Moroccan argan tree and is said to have restorative and age-defying effects. It is high in vitamin E and can help with dry skin, acne, eczema and even wrinkles! Argan oil is also delicious in salad dressings. Add it in place of olive oil in your basic vinaigrette, or read here about how various oil can be used for everyday cooking.

* Cucumber and Avocado Exfoliant: Cucumbers and avocados are also good for face masks as they contain soothing oils and hydrating elements. Mixing them with strawberries, honey, oatmeal or ground almonds will help create a thick exfoliant for your skin. Try mixing 1/4 cup each of grated cucumber, diced avocado and 1/4 cup of one of the other ingredients. It will be hard not to try a taste of this delicious concoction!

* Oatmeal, Honey, and Egg White Mask: If you want a more intense mix, combine 1 cup of plain oatmeal and 1/2 cup of honey to one egg white. This will create more of a paste like texture, which will really help hydrate your skin.

After trying these topical skin treatments, read about the best foods to eat for beautiful, glowing skin. Also see this article on the top 5 foods for your skin.

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