Although it’s available freely and inexpensively today, many wars have been fought over salt. Like many other condiments, it used to be a precious commodity and entire economies were based on salt. Chew on that tidbit of history the next time you ask for a salt shaker at a restaurant.
Its anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties make it an important part of natural healing methods. We visit a salt spa, speak to a chef about the various kinds of salt, and a nutritionist who states we are consuming more salt than our body needs.
Salt in the air
Don’t go in expecting any massages at the newest spa in the city. The treatment here involves you simply sitting back and breathing. The air you breathe, however contains pharmaceutical salt ground into extremely fine particles. There’s salt on the floor, on the walls, and in the air. The air-tight, soundproof room recreates the micro-climate of a natural salt mine or cave — the humidity and temperature, we’re told, are machine-controlled. Lyla Mehta, who set up Salt Escape with her husband Jamsheed, says, “Salt therapy is drug-free. It helps you relieve symptoms of a range of respiratory and skin ailments, like asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, cold and flu, chest infections, coughs, eczema and acne. The salt you inhale shifts the mucus in your system and you cough it out over the next few days.” Not a pleasant visual, but it’s supposed to work.
As a concept, salt therapy originated in eastern Europe where workers in salt mines and those who took shelter in salt caves during the World War II, maintained top respiratory condition. There is over two tons of salt in the treatment room at Salt Escape and the air (with salt particles) is pumped in through a small vent. “Depending on your ailment and how severe it is, we key in the requirements in the machine and it releases salt. One hour in a salt room is equivalent to four days by the sea,” Lyla says.
Lyla says the therapy is quicker and more effective on children. The kids’ treatment room is a delight — with board games, books, toys, and general playthings for children to loose themselves in. Salt Escape also offers a private treatment room for two with a TV set. “The rooms are sterile so there is no chance you can catch an infection here. Plus, we don’t take in patients who are in the contagious stage of an ailment. This is not a cure, we don’t ask you to stop your medication, but recommend this treatment along with it,” she says.
Before being led to the treatment room, we deposit our things in the lockers available, take off our shoes, and put on the hair nets and shoe covers provided. There are seven chairs in the room and blinds to separate each one of them for privacy. The salt on the floor feels like cool sand on our nearly bare feet and we make ourselves comfortable on the chair and foot rest. After a while, we could taste a hint of salt on our lips. The calming sound of gentle waves and the occasional chirping of birds in the background lulled us into near slumber. A session lasts for an hour, and since all you have to do is breathe, we found others actually taking a nap. Alternatively, you can leaf through health magazines available. There is also Wi-Fi connectivity, but the owners encourage you to unwind and calm your senses without having Twitter notifications scream for your attention.
Salt therapy isn’t a miracle cure and, as Lyla points out, a few sessions are required for the therapy to take effect. So, while we did wake up the next morning with a sinus headache as usual, the headache did not occur the following few days. Was it the spa? Was it just coincidence? It’s hard to tell.
Salt Escape, behind Reserve Bank of India, Fort
Price: Rs 1,600 per session (one hour)
Timing: 9.30am to 8.30pm (Monday to Saturday); 9.30am to 7pm (Sunday)
** Proceed with caution
Salt is healthy only when consumed in moderation, warns Dr Anjali Mukherjee
Today, salt is being over consumed thanks to processed and packaged food, asserts Dr Mukherjee. This is true for children as well as adults — both are consuming more than what the body requires. She adds, “When salt is consumed in moderation, electrolytes are in balance and it helps maintain intra-cellular pressure. The recommended daily allowance amount for adults is between three fourth of a teaspoon to one teaspoon.” Any more than that and you face the risk of suffering from high blood pressure and water retention. “It is not a nutrient one looks for in food. Salt is 40 per cent sodium and 60 per cent chloride. It’s the sodium part we cannot consume too much,” she explains. Moreover, she points that enough of the mineral exists in natural foods (dairy products, shell fish and meats) and that every age group has different requirements.
Add salt to taste
Juliano Rodrigues, executive chef, La Ruche-Bar and Grill (Bandra), picks out five types of salt and when to sprinkle them
“It is low in sodium but is not iodinated. It is widely used and has a greyish hue because it is unrefined. Apart from cooking, you can mix it with warm water and soak your feet in it; it’s a great stress reliever.”
Price: Rs 55 for 500 g at Godrej Nature’s Basket
“Approved by the Orthodox Jewish faith, it contains no additives or added iodine. It has a coarse texture and can be used in salads, for curing salmon, and brining poultry.”
Price: Rs 1,152 for 110 g on amazon.in
“Also known as kala namak, it is a pungent-smelling condiment. It is popularly used in chaat. It is also used as a preserve for pickles.”
Price: Rs 15 for 200 g at Godrej Nature’s Basket
“It contains 100 per cent sodium. Pickling salt could brine a chicken and a whole turkey. Such extreme saltiness is because of the fact that the variety isn’t iodized or mixed with any other chemicals. It can be used for preparing all types of Indian pickles.”
Price: Rs 1,880 for 130 g on amazon.in
“What we call table salt. It is mixed with a minute amount of various salts of the natural element iodine. The ingestion of iodine prevents iodine deficiency. It’s used in general cooking and as seasoning.”
Price: Rs 25 for 200 g at Godrej Nature’s Basket