Himalayan salt. These two words make people think of untouched, snow-capped mountains and the pristine salt that comes from them. A salt from such a heavenly place is probably good for us, especially when so many health gurus on the internet are promoting it. But is it really something worth buying? Does it live up to its claims?
Chandy and I have heard a lot about Himalayan salt over the last couple years, but didn’t try it out because it seemed a bit overpriced. At the end of the day, it’s just salt, not a superfood. But we are open to trying new things. So last month, while walking through our local Marshalls store, we came across a pretty bottle of pink Himalayan salt that was very reasonably priced, so we decided to give it a go and see what the hype was about.
Well, we can say that after eating it for 6 weeks, we haven’t really noticed any changes to our health. It does taste good, but does it have any benefits beyond taste? Is it really all that good for us? Does it deserve to be so expensive? Am I being ripped off?! Those were questions that popped up in my head and when I have questions, I start a quest to find answers! The topic of salt is especially near and dear to my heart since I did my Master’s thesis on double fortified salt, so I was ready to get knee deep into research for this post.
After four days of reading everything I possibly could, I’ve come to the conclusion that Himalayan salt definitely isn’t what it is marketed to be.
Does it live up to its claims? Short answer – no way. Long answer below.
Claim No.1: Himalayan salt is from the Himalayan mountain ranges.
Truth: Himalayan salt comes from a salt mine in Pakistan, which is 300 km away from the Himalayas. The salt is not from the Himalayan mountain ranges.
To my surprise, I found out that Himalayan salt does not even come from the Himalayas! I’ve always known that the salt is sourced from Pakistan and I also know that the Himalayan mountain ranges do extend into Pakistan, so I assumed the salt came from one of the mountain ranges there. Nope. Not even close.
The salt comes from a place called Khewra that is 300 km away from the Himalayas . 300 km is quite a distance. Why aren’t we calling the salt Khewra salt or pink salt or Pakistani salt? That would make a lot more sense. Why are we even calling it Himalayan salt, when it’s not even technically the Himalayas? Look at the map below for yourself. Himalayan salt comes from the Khewra salt mine (the red star) which is in the Punjab region of Pakistan [2,3] . The closest Himalayan ranges are a few hours drive away.
The only reason the salt from the Khewra salt mine is being called Himalayan salt is because it’s good marketing. Calling it Himalayan salt makes people associate it with beautiful snow-capped peaks and pristine conditions. Consumers will pay for that. No one would pay a premium for a salt called Khewra salt, so they called it something that would command a premium. It’s really as simple as that. Just look at the photos below.
After knowing where the salt really comes from, I won’t be falling for the “Himalayan” hype. The slick marketing around Himalayan salt is all fabricated. We are buying a product that doesn’t even live up to its name.
Claim No. 2: It has 84 minerals that are good for health.
Truth: It does not contain 84 minerals – it contains 31.
This is a claim I see pop up again and again. Some sites claim that we need all 84 minerals and that they are essential minerals without which we could not function. Let’s address the “essential” minerals part of this first. I have studied nutrition for years and not once have I heard that there are more than a few dozen minerals that the body absolutely needs. Current research shows that there are 28 essential minerals . There is a possibility that there are more essential minerals and science hasn’t figured it out yet. But as of now, there are ONLY 28 minerals that the body needs to function. As for the rest, they could be potentially harmful as well. So sellers of Himalayan salt have got to stop claiming that the salt has 84 essential minerals.
Now I want to address the actual number itself – eighty-four. Where did that come from? I looked around for lab analyses in peer-reviewed journals and found nothing, so I had to rely on manufacturer data. You can see two lab analyses here and here.
If you look carefully, many minerals are stated to be less than 0.001 ppm (parts per million). I’ve done my share of lab analysis during my Master’s, so I know that when a lab result says <0.001 ppm, it doesn’t mean that they found a tiny amount of that mineral. It means that the lab equipment can’t detect levels lower than that.
Let me explain a bit more. So in the first lab analysis, it states that the salt has <0.001 ppm of actinium. That does not mean that the salt has actinium necessarily. In plain English, a technician would say “our equipment didn’t detect actinium”. When you see a “less than” sign in lab results, it is the same as saying our equipment can’t detect it. It was not found in the sample.
If you look through the first lab analysis carefully, you’ll notice that MOST minerals were not detected. In fact, out of the 80+ minerals that were tested for, only 31 were found. JUST 31 – not even half of what is claimed.
Claim No. 3: It has a higher percentage of minerals than sea salt and is therefore, a better option.
Truth: Himalayan salt is more than 98% sodium chloride. It does not have a higher mineral content.
So I have seen a few images circulating on Pinterest that claim that Himalayan salt is 85% sodium chloride and 15% other minerals. The person who made that image has no source, so I couldn’t verify his/her claims. I did some digging around and found a few sources that show that Himalayan salt is no different than sea salt. It is 98% NaCl (sodium chloride) .
One source was the certificate of authenticity from the Pakistani exporters and the paperwork clearly states the the salt is 98.86% sodium chloride. In another publication , which seems to be journal article from a Pakistani laboratory, Khewra salt (referred to as pinkish salt in the article), is 98.30% sodium chloride.
Now let’s compare this to sea salt. I couldn’t find lab analyses of unrefined sea salts other than Celtic sea salt, but their salt has a high moisture content, so their percentages aren’t comparable. So I had to do some math to take into account their moisture content and it turns out that Celtic sea salt is actually 97% sodium chloride (if you exclude the water content) . Neither Himalayan salt nor unrefined sea salt is a good source of minerals.
If you want minerals, eat more mineral rich foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, etc. Simple as that.
Claim No. 4: It is the purest salt on the planet.
Truth: It is contaminated with elements like barium and lead.
What exactly do they mean by pure? If we go by the scientific term, then to be pure, salt would need to be 100% sodium chloride and absolutely nothing else. That is really not the case with Himalayan salt since it has many other compounds in it. I assume the manufacturers meant to say that the salt is pure in the sense that it has no contaminants. But that claim doesn’t hold up either.
Himalayan salt contains more than just pure salt, it has many contaminants such as lead, aluminum, thallium, barium etc . You can see the lab results of samples of Himalayan salt here. There are many minerals that I certainly don’t need in my food. Some of these minerals have no known function in the body, so why make me believe that I need them? These minerals are contaminants, so how can they say that the salt is pure? I don’t want my salt with a side of lead. I know it very small doses and won’t harm me (the dose makes the poison), but to say that the salt is pure is a very misleading statement.
Claim No. 5: It is pristine and untouched.
Truth: It might not have the same environmental pollutants the ocean has, but it is far from pristine.
This claim comes from the reputation of the salt coming from snowy mountain ranges. Now that we know that isn’t true, I’m not sure what they mean by pristine. The salt might not be exposed to modern day environmental pollutants like the ocean is, but that doesn’t mean it is pristine and untouched. From claim No.4, we already known that it isn’t pristine since it has many contaminants like lead. What about being untouched? Watch the video here for yourself. I don’t think “untouched” is a word I would use for this salt. The mining conditions are not too bad, but I wonder about the hygiene levels and how quality control is done.
Claim No. 6: It is hand-mined, so it is expensive to make.
Truth: It is hand-mined, but they do use gunpowder as well! The salt is not expensive to make – the labourers hardly get a fair wage.
So after reading up on how Himalayan salt is made, it seems to be hand-mined using older technologies. So that is one claim that is actually true. However, an article from the Seattle Times  mentions that in addition to using hand-cranked drills, they also use gunpowder to blast away portions of the mine. I’m not aware of how they ensure that no gunpowder ends up in the final product, so that seems a bit of a concern to me.
It’s interesting to note that Himalayan salt isn’t expensive because it costs more to pay for manual labour. The article in the Seattle Times mentions that labourers are hardly paid fair wages. They make $2.75 for mining a ton of salt. That is 2000 pounds of salt! Imagine being paid less than $3 for all that work. I do understand that labour is cheaper in places like Pakistan, but to pay labourers just $3 for a ton of salt is absurd. As consumers we pay $13 dollars for 1 pound of salt . That would be $26,000 for a ton of salt if you do the math (correct me if I am wrong please 🙂 ). So we pay more than 8,000 times the amount of money the workers get paid for the same amount of salt. Hardly seems right.
First of all the workers don’t get paid well, and then on top of that the working conditions don’t seem safe. Azmad Malik, a former deputy chief of the salt-workers union in Pakistan, said scarcely a week passes without a report of a fatal accident . That’s a death of a worker due to unsafe working conditions almost every week. Why are we paying so much for this salt when they can’t even pay the workers a decent wage and give them working conditions that are safe? It doesn’t sound like an ethically made product.
We aren’t paying a premium on Himalayan salt because it is hand-mined – that doesn’t cost the companies that much. We are paying for slick marketing and that pisses me off as a consumer who wants to spend her $$$ wisely.
As you can see, Himalayan salt does not live up to the claims.
Does that mean you shouldn’t eat at all? Nope. That is not what I am saying. I am simply saying that it’s over-hyped and is not necessarily any better than quality sea salt. Based on the current evidence, there is no reason to pay a hefty premium for a product that doesn’t really have any benefits beyond aesthetics and taste, and is probably not ethically made.
Now that I have covered the claims, I want to move on to cover one more area that deserves some attention.
What is the environmental impact of Himalayan salt?
It’s one thing that I haven’t really seen anyone mention in their posts. We have plenty of salt here in North America from different sources (such as the mine in Redmond, Utah), yet we are shipping tons of Himalayan salt from half-way across the world. What’s the environmental impact of that? I couldn’t find a number for it or any research on it, but it CANNOT be insignificant. Do we really need to get our salt from an exotic land when we have all the salt we need right here on our side of the planet?
How much fuel is used to ship the salt all the way here? What is the carbon footprint of that?
It’s something worth thinking about.
Writing this post took much longer than I anticipated because there was very little quality information on this salt. It’s almost as if all the claims come from dubious sources. What I have learned from the last few days of research is that if a food has too many claims, be skeptical – very skeptical. Question it. And if a health expert is promoting it and selling it on his/her site – be aware. They have a vested interest so you can’t believe everything they have to say. Do your research. I’m happy that I did.
What do you think? Is Himalayan salt something you would pay extra for? Leave us a comment below!