Buying salt in Italy

08/19/2009 - 08:34

It must be very obvious to those of you who live in Italy and are used to supermarket shopping, but for me, new to food-shopping in Italy, I was puzzled why I could not find ordinary salt anywhere on the shelves.We spent the first few short days in our newly purchased apartment last month and I was keen to make a start on cooking with local ingredients.  The shopping went well, and I bought lots of lovely produce, BUT I could not find salt in the two supermarkets nearest to our flat.Allan told me in Italy salt was once a government monopoly, but it has now been removed from government price controls.  He said the Tabacchi displays a sign with a big white "T" on a dark blue or black background and says  "sali e tabacchi" which refers to two products that were controlled by the government, salt and tobacco.  I did not have time on the last visit to try the Tabacchi, so please can someone tell me whether salt is still sold in the Tabacchi and if so - how?  In packets?  Is there a choice?  What about in the supermarket, is it hidden away, or have the supermarkets been slow to stock up? ****  Ten minutes later - OK OK I have just found out that this change happened 30 years ago!  But this does not explain why I could not find salt on the shelves in the supermarket.  We went round and round, but there was no sign of it.  Where would it normally be displayed?**** Fifty minutes later - it wasn't just salt we couldn't find either.  After completing the rogito (Friday 7.30 pm) and getting our keys, we went to the supermarket to stock up on a few necessities (stuff to make a nice cup of tea first off) and I felt pleased with myself that I remembered we would need matches to light the gas.  Of course, you all know you can't get them in a supermarket.  I didn't know that then.  After doing a pantomime for the shop assistant, she produced some small cigarette lighters that we were able purchase to use to light the gas to make the first cup of tea in our new holiday home. 


Well, yes I would have been looking for something like the little round Saxa salt boxes!  We really did look long and hard in both supermarkets.  I have to say there were not many spices either.  I said to Allan, "looks like they don't use the same kind of spices we do at home" ........ not that we wanted them ..... we are going all out Italian.

Yes, the range of herbs and spices is limited in Italian shops. You may well decide to go "all out Italian", and more power to you if you stick to it and enjoy it. It's certainly the course of least resistance when living in Italy. But I think many of us expats with a more cosmopolitan experience of eating than most Italians (some of whom consider sausage made in the next village along the road to be barbarous foreign food) tend to find constant Italian food a little monotonous after a while. While there are those who have gone completely native and apparently believe that nobody living in Italy should be allowed to eat a single meal which does not contain some tomatoes, basil and an Italian cheese of some sort, in this house Italian food takes it's place along with Indian, Indonesian, Mexican, Chinese and British dishes, and we refuse to feel guilty about being non-provincial. Finding the ingredients for that sort of cooking isn't always easy, so we tend to come back from visits to northern Europe with boxes of things which I suspect many of our neighbours would consider outlandish if not obviously completely inedible since their mother used the stuff in her cooking. Al

Not sure where you guys are shopping, but we find everything we need (and Jean is an ambitious cook) at the local Super/Hyper markets such as Co-op, Oasi etc.We can also find about 4 or 5 different types of salt - bottom shelf as it can be heavy.Just out of curiosity (and out of the box) we live along the Salaria - the road used by the Romans to take salt from Porto D'Ascoli to Rome to pay the soldiers. They were paid in salt (sale) hence the road is the Salaria - and putting that all together results in our remuneration being our 'Salary'. But then everybody knew that...

We've never had any problem finding salt in a supermarket. It's generally around the spices. Perhaps you're looking a bit too high on the shelves. In my experience, most supermarkets have a large stack of kilo boxes of the stuff (in fine and coarse varieties) on a pallet on the floor. I assume it's sold in large quantites because so many families use a lot of the stuff for their home-preserving. Al

Since I'm being blocked from editting my earlier comment for some reason (What's my name again? Sally?), I'll waste everyone's time by saying that the last sentence in my previous was supposed to go: "...we tend to come back from visits to northern Europe with boxes of things which I suspect many of our neighbours would consider outlandish if not obviously completely inedible since their mother never used the stuff in her cooking." Leaving out the "never" makes the comment even more silly than some will doubtless already consider it to be. Al

Actually, FNO, in my experience Italians are very interested in English sweets.  Not surprising really when you try their sawdust biscuits and don't get me started on Panettone!!Anyway, anything from shortbread to plum cake is usually commented upon favourably.Can I come round yours for some satay Allan?

thay are a bit sneaky initalian supermarkets. as they know thay you will buy salt because you need it, they tend to store it in hidden places... just ask the shop assistant! The good news is that salt is cheaper and better than in theUK!  

latoca said: "The good news is that salt is cheaper and better than in theUK!" (So where's the quote feature in this marvelous new set up?) I am intrigued by the idea that the sodium chloride (NaCl) sold in Italy is somehow tastier or better quality than the NaCl sold in Britian. (Brings to mind someone who once told me with utter conviction that Italian gold is much better than British gold. But I think she meant Italian jewellery design is better than British jewellery.) Al

Sorry, I have had problems with computers and Internet lines for the past four days, so I missed on the discussion. Salt has historically been a very valuable commodity.... until the arrival of deep freezers and other methods to keep and preserve food. Salt was heavily taxed and this is the reason why Tuscan bread is unsalted as the Tuscans refused to pay those heavy taxes. Most of Italy´s salt comes from Sicily and this is the reason why places such as Trapani were very important in the past, however, salt is nowadays just another item in the food basket. Those signs about selling tobacco and salt refer to those times when taxes applied. Now you can buy it at any supermarket at very reasonable prices.

Hi, We too had a hard job finding salt in our local was near the floor! I have now taken over low salt as its better for my other half as he uses it a lot!! Unfortunately  I got searched with ryanair as they did'nt recognize the item in my hand luggage. They told me to add it to my liquids bag!! 

 I find the Italians use way too much salt for my liking, and, sometimes the food just tastes of salt and burns my mouth. I am a no salt kind of gal, so I have a hard time of it here. Does anyone else feel that salt is used too generously here?Sprat

Agree with you Pilchard, there are places I no longer eat at as they seem to marinade the meat in brine before they cook it, as you say, way too salty, I hardly ever use salt in cooking, use herbs for flavour instead and never add salt to food at the table. One good habit amid all the bad ones!.A

You said it A!!!! No we agree. Even Mark who does like salt on his food, very often finds meat far too salty especilly lamb, which is a shame as we hardly ever eat it because it is very expensive. We look forward to a treat every so often,only to find when it arrives, it is very salty. Like Gala says, maybe they are still remembering the days before we had fridges and can't get out of the old habbit. One place we have found recently which doesn't use too much salt, is Trattoria Vittoria in Santa Vittoria in Matenano and it is very cheap too!

Salt is an acquired taste and it should be handled with care, particularly if we are not getting any younger and our blood pressure is playing up. I agree that many times you find places where they use too much salt. It should be kept in mind that we have to balance flavours and that some ingredients, such as olives in brine, anchovies, ham, bacon, tinned tomatoes and vegetables may already contain salt.... not to mention stock cubes, although there are new varieties with reduced salt.Many people also reach for the salt and pepper mills immediately without tasting their meal first. I always try to keep salt and pepper nearby but away from the main table and I warn my guests to check first to see whether they need any adjustment.I use different types of salt for different purposes. For grilling, barbecueing and roasting, I prefer "fior di sale" 100% salt, very similar to Maldoon. It is quite expensive, however, you use it in small quantities.You can also find "sale da cucina" or "sale grosso" which is ordnary cooking salt and "sale da tavola" or "sale fino", which is refined table salt.

Cilla10 mentioned bringing low sodium salt substitute to Italy.We have seen this in a few supermarkets, again generally near the spices, vinegar and oil.It comes in smaller containers than the normal 1kg box and will be called something like sale dietetico.The 400g container I'm looking at says each 100g of contents contains 24.9g potassium, 13.5g sodium, 1.1g magnesium and 0.6g calcium.It has been some time since we bought it, so I can't say how much it cost. Recollection is that it was a bit pricey, but then I recall the same applied to salt substitute in Britain.Al

 Does salt really enhance the flavours of foods? Not for me. The flavours of fresh vegetables, fish and meats( I should imagine) all come through with their own unique flavour. I mean if I want to taste the food why drench it in salt. Salt in my eyes (secunda me SP?)  is a habit as is sugar. Not needed.Sprat

Carole is right, the meat is not salty at all, very tender and it keeps all of its juices. Really delicious. The same method is used to cook not only beef but also whole chicken and mainly whole fish. The results are spectacular. You only have to remove the salt crust that has formed during the baking process. The salt is acting as a wrap, only. This method of preparation is used throughout the Mediterranean.Allan, I think that the low sodium salt is called "sale iposodico".

Thank you everyone - I now know that salt can be found in large packets on the bottom shelves of Italian supermarkets, not high up in little barrels like you find in England.  I love the stuff; I need it sprinkled abundantly on my home fried chips, in salad dressing, in hand rolled meatballs, and of course,  it's good for dipping into with mild raw onion and eaten with cooked white beans in tomatoes and olive oil.Yes I know it's not good for the blood pressure, but without it, food is not at its best.  Natural flavours are enhance with wonderful SALT in the correct measure.

Some years ago when staying in Gran Canaria I loved eating the "Canary Island Potatoes". I asked how they were cooked because they were so delicious and was told they were boiled in water with about half a kilo of salt!!  I never did try cooking them myself as I normally never add salt to anything. Has anyone ever tried cooking these type of potatoes themselves?Maralyn

I think that you are refering to a dish called "Papas arrugadas" (wrinkled potatoes) which is typical from the Canary Islands. Here is a good recipe although I would double the amount of was the traditional way to preserve potatoes for fishermen and sailors. In the Canary Islands it was customary to keep the salted water and reuse it.