What's the Difference Between Table Salt and the Kind Used to Melt Ice on Roads?

If you're only going to have one type of salt in the pantry, table salt will do. HandmadePictures/Shutterstock

Q: My wife is from Indonesia, and I had a difficult time explaining the difference between table salt and the salt they use to melt ice on roads. What's the difference?

A: Unlike table salt, road salt is definitely not for licking!

While both begin as sodium chloride, the coarse mix used on roads and highways contains high levels of chemicals such as sodium ferrocyanide and ferric ferrocyanide that prevent caking during storage. As you can imagine, areas with heavy snowfall require tons of salty stuff to keep roads safe and ice-free. If you’ve ever dealt with a clogged salt shaker, you can imagine what a pain it would be to chip at a mountain of salt once the first snowflake lands on your tongue. Your standard variety table salt also contains a tiny amount of food-grade, anti-caking additives along with iodine to prevent iodine deficiency.

But your basic table salt has come a long way in recent years. Like coffee, chocolate and even water, salt has gone chichi.

Today, you can sprinkle coal-black granules of Kilauean sea salt over your deviled eggs or grill a filet of halibut on a powder pink slab of salt hand-harvested in the Himalayans. Salt is even roasted to add subtle smokiness to Korean dishes.

If you and your sweetheart are feeling truly adventurous, visit your local gourmet food store and pick up a few varieties and have a taste test. But try not to go overboard. Most Americans consume more than twice the recommended amount of salt, resulting in a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. To offset all that saltiness, I offer a few seasoning options that are good — and good for you.

Turmeric: This bright yellow spice frequently appears in curry powder and has been used throughout India to treat illnesses ranging from body aches to colic. Recently, turmeric has gained attention because of the presence of curcumin, which helps fight inflammation. Sprinkle it over cold-weather dishes such as chili or stew.

Cinnamon: Health officials say cinnamon can help lower blood sugar levels. It's an ongoing debate, but meanwhile, it won't hurt to sprinkle this sweet-smelling spice on something other than toast or apple pie.

Oregano: Finely chop a handful of this fresh herb and sprinkle it over pasta, eggs and other dishes for a super serving of cancer-fighting antioxidants.

Cayenne pepper: That fiery flavor comes courtesy of capsaicin, a component that may help prevent heart disease. If nothing else, it will kick your popcorn up a notch or two.

Happy eating. Now I need to go make some popcorn.