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I work in a restaurant where we dry age our uncut steaks in a cooler. Dry aging is a wonderfully complex process that improves the flavor of richly marbled steaks. Our particular type of aging cooler has a wall of himalayan pink salt (NaCl with other minierals and enough iron oxide to make a pink hue). Our process is even patented by a famous chef. The patent claims that the salt improves the flavor of the beef, and that the closer the beef is to the salt wall, the more flavorful the beef becomes.

I have a limited understanding of NaCl's basic properties (this is necessary in my line of work). It seems to me that no appreciable amount of salt is making its way to the beef through the air. Air simply circulates around the cooler keeping the beef dry and mitigating microbial grotwh. There is also moisture control that keeps the humidity within a certain range, somewhere in the 60% ball park (relative humidity, i think).

When I assert to some of my co-workers that the salt does nothing besides pull some moisture from the air (via hygroscopy), they contest. They cite the gradually diminishing volume of the salt and the smell of sea air (by the sea, not in the room) to support the claims that the salt is present in the aging room atmosphere.

I would counter that the salt is simply ending up on the floor as it is dissolved by the water it pulls from the air via hygroscopy (The floor is cleaned daily). And on the sea air: I know that near the ocean, salt, along with other minerals and organic material, can become suspended in the air in microscopic water droplets and these droplets can deposit these salt, minerals, etc on surfaces. However, the formation of these "sea salt aerosols" involves the churning of the sea water, formation of bubbles, and the action of wind, two of which are not present in the salt wall.

I guess the best summary of my question would be the following: Can damp salt with an air current flowing around it transfer any amount of salt, via the air, to another surface?

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    $\begingroup$ The simplest way to prove your point would be to convince everyone to do a double-blind taste test, but that might be a bit of a hard sell. $\endgroup$ – chipbuster Aug 10 '15 at 22:36
  • $\begingroup$ that would involve setting up a chamber to age almost identical cuts of beef in almost identical conditions. completely impractical in the context of our workplace. Also, i forgot to mention that a 1 cm of outer layer of each primal(whole section of meat) is removed before fabrication (cutting the individual steaks) as it has become quite dry and possibly developed fungal growth(which is actually beneficial to the process). HOWEVER, seeing as this is a patented process, i think a series of double blind taste tests would be warranted and even feasible to prove the merit of the patent's claims. $\endgroup$ – Anonymous Aug 12 '15 at 1:52
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In short, no. The vapor pressure of salt is trivial compared to the grams of salt you would put on a steak when cooking it. I think your analysis is good- the most likely impact is that the salt modulates the humidity.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree with this answer but it is worth noting that since the air is circulating, small dust particles could impact the salt surface, resulting in ejection of microparticles of salt in all directions, some of which may in fact wind up on the beef. Or more likely, beads of water could land on the salt surface and form a small amount of saturated salt solution, tiny aerosolized droplets of which could also be blown around by the air. $\endgroup$ – Curt F. Aug 11 '15 at 1:09
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose we'd have to set up an identical aging cooler and analyze multiple pieces of aged meat to discern whether there'd be any difference in the salt and mineral content. My guess is that the difference would probably not be measurable (except possibly with very sensitive equipment) and certainly not be perceptible by taste. $\endgroup$ – Anonymous Aug 12 '15 at 3:06
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Unless the salt is a very fine powder and the air is being agitated throughout the room at a very high rate, the salt simply would not be prone to becoming airbone. Based on your description, it doesn't sound like it would be anywhere near fine enough to worry about salt dust possibly contributing anything. Even were it fine, the moisture would quickly clump it and make any possibility of it entering the air in the first place pointless.

Basically, it's marketing. It's a dumb idea from a science standpoint, but the power of suggestion is often more potent than scientific principles. I wouldn't question it too hard if you value your job based on this very concept - it's quite likely the chef knows it does nothing.

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