Sunday, April 3, 2011

The sugar saga continues

Some readers might remember our "sugar" mishaps several months ago.  To recap as briefly as possible, I had bought in Malaysia a very large bag of what I thought was sugar.  It was next to the bags of flour in the baking goods section of a supermarket.   There were no English words printed on the bag; it was next to the flour so I just assumed it was sugar.  When my large canister of sugar was emptied in the normal course of daily cooking, I filled the large canister from the very large bag of "sugar" and sealed the remainder for future use.  While in Thailand I used this "sugar" to make pancakes twice and chocolate pie once and had to throw all away because the taste was disgusting.  Later I used this "sugar" to sweeten one of my rare cups of coffee.  That is when we finally discovered that this "sugar" was salt.

Or so we thought!

While in Cochin we finally used up the last of the pink Himalayan special salt that I had bought last summer when there was no normal cheap salt in the supermarket one day.  I was very glad to see the last of this expensive pink salt that I considered a complete waste of money.  It tasted no different than normal cheap salt.  So I dug out the large bag of the "not-really-sugar-but-think-it-is-salt" and filled both the cooking salt canister and the table salt shaker.  This "salt" looked like slightly larger salt crystals and appeared a bit shiny.  It also left a nasty aftertaste.  This aftertaste reminded me very much of Morton Lite Salt, but it made no sense that a salt substitute would be sold in such huge quantity.  

Within days of beginning to use this "salt" from Malaysia, Bill's feet began to swell.  His poor feet looked like they were about to explode.  He tried massive doses of Vitamin C but that did not help.  We do not have any prescription diuretics onboard.  I had slight swelling but nothing bad.  Bill finally thought maybe he was getting an attack of gout and he took the medication for gout.  That relieved the swelling quite a bit.  We never made the connection between the swelling and our new use of this "salt."  But we were both noticing the strange aftertaste in foods, especially pancakes and fried eggs for some reason; but neither of us mentioned it to the other.  I tried just to  ignore this annoying taste.  Bill didn't want to complain and figured his "taste bugs" (as our grandchildren say)  were just not working well.  Old age, maybe??

Last week we finally discussed this nasty aftertaste.  That is when we realized this started when we began using that huge bag of "salt" from Malaysia.  I opened a newly purchased bag of salt and we compared the appearance and tip-of-finger tasting comparisons.  The new small container was definitely normal cooking/table salt.  The huge bag from Malaysia was not salt.  It tasted very salty but left that nasty aftertaste.  The crystals were slightly larger and longer than normal table salt.  And it had a somewhat shiny appearance.

I emptied the entire bag overboard and washed the vacuum seal bag for another future use, like maybe sealing tubes of Pringles.  Bill then said he had wanted to save some of it and ask our daughter-in-law to test it.  She is a chemical engineer and might have been able to identify what this stuff really was.  It damn sure was not normal salt.  But, too late.  It was all dissolved into the sea before Bill mentioned this idea to me.   We sent her an email describing this substance, and her first guess was potassium.  Wonder if that would explain my headaches?  I thought that was just from the horrible air pollution in India and the stress of waiting on transport since we arrived in Male.  

Bill's feet were back to normal size within 2 days of tossing out this "salt" and going back to real salt for cooking.  Unfortunately, my headaches continue -- probably caused by clipping my thick heavy hair up in an effort to cool off in this very hot and humid climate.

Who knows what we were ingesting.  Shopping in foreign countries sometimes brings surprises.


  1. Judy
    I wonder if the 'salt' could have been MSG that has similar side effects to the ones you are describing.
    Keep Smiling!
    Deb and John

  2. Mystery solved...MSG it was. We had a container of MSG, just tasted it, and YES, same salty, nasty taste. Someone else emailed us stating, "Asian cooking uses lots of it, and it is in the 'baking' section of markets."

  3. Really lucky to have survived two bad decisions: the purchase of the uncertain substance and the failure to retain some. (People who forage for wild mushrooms always joke about leaving some aside in their kitchen so the coroner knows what it was).

  4. I also thought this was MSG cause of how prevelant it is in asian cooking.

    Very lucky he did not have a massive gout attack. A very small amount of MSG can set me off and have me layed up for 48 hours.


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