Is it "crossing the line" to ban salt from use in restaurant kitchens? That's what MSNBC's Tamron Hall asked of her viewers shortly before 3 p.m. on March 11.
To discuss the issue, she interviewed New York State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D) on his proposed legislation calling for a ban of salt use in Empire State restaurant kitchens. Each violation would carry a $1,000 fine.
Hall failed to balance out Ortiz by giving equal time for an opponent of the proposed legislation, although she did ask Ortiz, "What about the businesses that would suffer under this rule of no salt?"
In answer to Hall's question, Ortiz erroneously insisted that his legislation would further consumer choice, when in fact his bill is an outright ban that doesn't countenance customer preference, declaring in no uncertain terms that:
NO OWNER OR OPERATOR OF A RESTAURANT IN THIS STATE SHALL USE SALT IN ANY FORM IN THE PREPARATION OF ANY FOOD FOR CONSUMPTION BY CUSTOMERS OF SUCH RESTAURANT, INCLUDING FOOD PREPARED TO BE CONSUMED ON THE PREMISES OF SUCH RESTAURANT OR OFF OF SUCH PREMISES.
Yet Hall failed to call Ortiz on his dishonest answer, pronouncing his idea as "an interesting proposal" before asking viewers to weigh in via Twitter.
Aside from the ideological and political questions in play about consumer freedom and the regulatory state, it turns out that any chef worth his salt (pun intended) would laugh Ortiz out of his kitchen, as restaurant columnist Steve Barnes of the Albany Times-Union noted in a March 10 entry at his Table Hopping blog (h/t DrewM. of Ace of Spades):
Regardless of the intent, and accepting its sponsor’s claim that it is part of his campaign to improve the public’s health, the bill exhibits profound ignorance not only of matters of taste — literally — but also of the chemistry of cooking.
“It’s a preposterous notion,” says baker extraordinaire Michael London, whose Mrs. London’s Bakery has been a Saratoga Springs institution for more than three decades. “Not using salt would make breads insipid and anemic,” London says. Besides lacking flavor, saltless bread would also have different texture, density and other characteristics as a result of its altered chemistry, London tells me.
In food scientist Shirley O. Corriher’s “CookWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking,” she writes that even the minimal salt used in baking — as little as one-third of a teaspoon per cup of flour — plays four crucial roles in the development of dough: It enhances flavor, controls bacteria, slows yeast activity and strengthens dough by tightening gluten.
“The small amounts we are dealing with … are not enough to add significantly to dietary salt intake,” Corriher writes.
Photo of Ortiz via his official New York Assemblyman Web page.