Salt isn't a spice in the strictest sense of the word - it's a mineral, rather than a plant substance. But it would be odd to write a column about ingredients used as flavour enhancers and ignore the one that's used most often, and almost universally. For those of us accustomed to seasoning with salt, food without it can be very bland. But it needs to be used in moderation, something many fast-food and packaged-food manufacturers haven't quite realised. Food - good food, anyway - shouldn't taste salty. Instead, just enough salt should be used to make the food taste better than it would without it. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees on what "just enough" is - so, if in doubt, it's better to use a little less than you think is enough and let your guests add salt if they want it. Although doctors and nutritionists have long preached that we should have a low-sodium diet, it turns out salt isn't nearly as bad for you as it was once believed to be - as long as you're a healthy person in the first place. Salt was first linked to hypertension and high blood pressure in a study where sodium-sensitive rats were fed enormous quantities of the mineral - far more, in proportion, than any human would normally consume. As we all know, too much of anything can be bad for you. More recent studies, using control groups and more reasonable amounts of salt, haven't shown the same cause and effect - but again, that's in healthy people. It's actually dangerous to consume too little salt because it's something (along with water and potassium) that we need to maintain the right hydration and the correct electrolyte balance in our bodies. Almost all the recipes in my cooking column call for sea salt, which differs in several ways from the normal table salt most people use. Table salt is highly refined, so almost all the trace elements have been removed, making it one-dimensional and more intensely salty than less refined types. Table salt also takes the form of tiny, dense grains, rather than the airy flakes we get from most types of sea salt. If you measure salt by volume, you get much more in a tablespoon of table salt than a tablespoon of sea salt (and even that can vary, according to the size of the flakes). While most people think of salt as an ingredient used in savoury dishes, it's also important when making pastry and desserts - a small amount of salt helps to balance the sweetness.