One of my bucket list items, for when we became empty nesters, was to learn Chinese cooking. The exotic smells and flavors have always had a special appeal, and I am easily mesmerized in a Chinese market by the assortment of spices and sauces, most with labels I cannot even read. It turned out that to enroll in a culinary school with Chinese cooking classes would require pre-requisite cooking classes. So began my journey back to college after over 40 years!
I did eventually get that Chinese cooking class and then expanded to other Asian cuisines, Mexican and finally classical and bistro French cooking. I have been taught by wonderful chefs who corrected my knife skills, taught me to taste as I go, showed me how to layer flavors to optimize dishes, and when to stop the cooking so the food will be at its peak flavors. The classes usually require a properly plated presentation to the chef, where a critique is provided to me regarding the balance of flavors. For the first two years, the most common comments from my chefs were “needs more salt.” Even when I decided I had better add extra salt during the cooking process, the same comment sometimes appeared on my evaluation.
Salt is a funny ingredient. Of course, it provides saltiness, but it is also an enhancer. It brings out the best of the other spices in the food, heightening the contribution of each without overpowering with its own saltiness. Salt is an essential ingredient regardless of the type of cuisine. It can also be added in a variety of ways –absorbed through boiling water, creating a crust on meats, drying out vegetables, or simply added to a pot of sauce.
Salt is referenced in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, when He instructs His disciples to be salt in the world. Matthew 5:13 says “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”
For salt to be effective, it must be applied liberally. For most dishes, salt is added by layering, or exposing the food to the salt more than once in the cooking cycle. The same is true for being salt in the world. The salt is not effective if it stays in the salt shaker. It must be liberally applied, exposing the need for its tasty flavor to all who will welcome its seasoning. Being the salt of the earth allows us to bring the zest and excitement of Jesus to others. We show the nonbeliever that something is missing, something that can only be fulfilled with one unique ingredient. As salt, we expose others to their need for a savior. The answer to Jesus’ question, “How shall saltiness be restored?” is straightforward. There is no alternative for salt. That is why we are instructed to be salt, so that others will see there is only one way to experience joy in living. There is only one way to salvation.
Sometimes when I am cooking, I think about that verse and being salt to the world. I have read that the reference to salt in this verse is as a preservative, since salt can retard the bacteria that spoil food. The use of salt preceded refrigeration in the preservation of food. So if we are to be salt, we can presumably have a preventative effect on the corruption in our world. The church itself has been the preservative that God has used to advance His kingdom. In a very real sense the church is the salt of the earth.
With another read of the verse 13, I see that Jesus references the salt’s taste. Without salt, there is no life in the dish; there is only a bland composite of food ingredients. But add salt and flavors soar. Add salt and the dish becomes distinctive, bright, lively and leaving you wanting more. Perhaps this reference in Matthew to saltiness can also remind us to be an essential ingredient in the lives of the people God sovereignly places in our path. We can be the salt that changes their views of life into ones with an exciting eternal perspective. We can be the salt that makes people want to taste more of what they see in us. We can be the salt that encourages a deeper drink of the Word, a deeper longing for a relationship with Jesus. We can be the salt that brings out the best in others by pointing them to Christ. We cannot be too salty when it comes to imparting the truth God has shown us to others.
One thing is still true for my cooking and this world – they both need more salt!
About the Author:
Sharon is recently retired from a career first as a chemist and then as a regulatory affairs consultant to the medical device industry. She has served on the women’s ministry team at Grace Presbyterian Church in her home town of Yorba Linda, California, and has worked as the west coast regional advisor for the PCA. Her husband, two married daughters and two married sons are all engineers, who provide interesting technical conversations for a dinner table. Sharon is working on completing her bucket list which includes raising orchids, attending culinary school, bird watching and traveling. She has two baby granddaughters and is looking forward to the third coming soon.