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Monday, January 31, 2005

Who says advertising doesn't work?

Anyone from North America probably remembers a big blue canister of Morton Salt in their pantry.  You may say you don't remember but let's play a simple little game to test your memory:

1.  On the blue Morton Salt canister there is a little girl wearing a yellow dress and carrying a big _____________:

A.  Bowl of Popcorn
B.  Slab of Nova Salmon
C.  T-Bone Steak
D.  Umbrella

If you answered 'D' , congratulations, you've won the first round and can advance to the second level.  Moving on...

2.  Directly behind the little girl the viewer can see___________:

A.  A little dog pulling down her bathing suit to reveal her tan line.
B.  Detective McRuff reminding her to "Take a bite out of crime".
C.  The exhaust from her Harley Davidson Motorcycle
D.  A wide trail of salt pouring from the canister she holds under her arm.

How'd we do?  If you answered 'A' I'm sorry, that would be the Coppertone Girl... but I like that you were still focused on advertising.  Anyone else? OK, if you answered 'D' again, you were correct.  You advance to the 'Bonus' round!

3.  At the bottom of the canister there is a memorable sentence that does not describe the free-flowing properties of the salt, its taste or even its color.  The sentence reads:  "This salt contains ___________ a necessary nutrient."  The missing word is:

A.  Plutonium
B.  Retsin
C.  Vitamin C
D.  Iodine

Alright, time's up.  Oh, I'm sorry, if you answered 'B' you were thinking of Certs.  But as a gift you'll be receiving the 'Play at Home' version of our game!  How about a nice hand!!! 

Alright, our winner, of course, answered 'D'... Iodine.

Now how is it that absolutely everyone I know remembers that Morton's Salt ("when it rains it pours") contains iodine, but very few know why.  Also, if I ask people if Morton's was the only iodized salt, there is a lot of hemming and hawing, but few definitive answers.

Despite what you must be thinking at this point, I didn't just pick this topic out of clear blue sky.  Believe it or not, the whole iodized salt issue has been bothering me since we moved to Israel.  You see, when I went into the store to buy that first batch of groceries for our new house a little over a year ago, I read every single canister, bag, shaker and baggie of salt to find some mention of iodine... and found none.

This is where the magic of advertising comes in.  If you ask anyone what the active ingredient in Certs brand breath mint is, they will yell 'Retsin!'.  They have no earthly idea what Retsin is, or why it is important, but they remember the commercial with that drop of sparkling Retsin being placed on each Cert.  Sorry to disappoint you folks, but Retsin is vegetable oil, and if you want to know why Certs made such a big deal about it, the answer lies in the fact that you remember it all these years after first hearing about it.

The Iodine in Morton's iodized table salt is similar, although not completely bogus advertising hook. 

Is Morton's the only salt to have iodine?  No, of course not. 

Is iodine a 'necessary nutrient'?  Why yes... yes it is. 

But the more important question that needs to be asked is; If I don't use iodized salt, will I no longer get this necessary nutrient? 

This is the question I found myself agonizing over in an Israeli supermarket's salt section during that first big shopping spree.

It turns out that the answer is a resounding 'It Depends'.  It depends on factors such as:

a) Where you live: Many areas of the world have iodine in the soil and it gets transferred to vegetables, fruits and even milk as it is passed up the food chain.

b) What you eat: Iodine is found in many sea foods and plants that grow in or near the ocean.  People who have a diet rich in such foods probably get a pretty good amount of iodine without supplementing with iodized salt.

So let's say I eat a diet low in sea food, I live in an area that does not have iodine in the soil and I don't use iodized salt.  What happens then?

Well, to answer that question you need to understand that most of the iodine you take in is stored in your Thyroid gland, a butterfly shaped gland that straddles your wind pipe inside your neck.   

Near the beginning of the 20th century, the US government became concerned about two fairly common (and preventable) conditions caused by lack of iodine: Cretinism and Goiters.

Cretinism was a preventable form of retardation caused by lack of iodine in the mother during pregnancy.  It manifested itself through stunted growth, mental retardation and a tendency to leave inappropriate comments on total stranger's blogs.  OK, I made that last one up to see if you were paying attention, but the first two are real.

Goiters are those big, unsightly growths on the front of the neck that are actually acute swelling of the thyroid gland.  Chances are, if you've seen someone with a goiter it was probably in National Geographic or some medical journal since they are quite rare in developed countries these days.

So, as I was saying, the US government decided around 1920 to add iodine to something that most everyone was likely to use.  They picked salt.  It just so happens that Morton's ran with the idea and made it part of their marketing strategy.  Long after people had forgotten about goiters and cretinism, there was that memorable line of advertising on the familiar blue canister in all our pantries.

This brings us back to David standing in the salt aisle of the Israeli supermarket, panicked over his inability to find iodized salt.  At that point I didn't have a clear sense of why iodine was important, but I knew that Morton's wouldn't have made a big deal about it unless it was pretty darned important. I ended up buying regular salt and made a note to have some Morton's sent over from the states at the earliest opportunity.

What I recently found out is that Israel is not one of the 'high risk' iodine countries (this must have been G-d's consolation prize for not giving us one drop of the world's crude oil supply). Not only is iodine present in the soil in much of the land used for agriculture, but the per-capita consumption of seafood is high enough to ensure that most people have plenty of iodine in their diet.  But just to be on the safe side, Israel's largest salt company contracted with a Swiss company to provide iodizing technology to its plant in Eilat.

So, there it is.  Unless an Israeli uses one of those fancy European sea salts to the exclusion of all others, and completely avoids seafood, fruits, vegetables and milk products, chances are pretty good that he/she won't have to worry about developing a goiter or leaving inappropriate comments on anyone's blog.

[Note:  Most (but not all) of the information found in today's post came from the Morton Salt web site and/or herbalicious.com .  The rest is just stuff I have picked up through 43+ years of collecting trivia.]219_9

Posted by David Bogner on January 31, 2005 | Permalink


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And all this time I thought that you got a goiter from too much iodine... that's what I get from relying on Mel Brooks's 2000-year old man for medical advice...

...actually, now that I look it up, both are correct.

Posted by: Elan | Jan 31, 2005 2:40:33 PM

The whole idea of adding nutrients to foods,such as Vitamin D to milk or Calcium to orange juice or iodine to milk or flouride to drinking water, is very interesting, from a cultural standpoint. I have a friend who works in public health here, and she told me that a lot of public health issues in Israel could be avoided if we added various vitamins and minerals to commonly-used foods, but that the Israeli culture has a "don't mess with my food" attitude. That might be changing, though. The more Israelis eat processed things like, say, McBurgers and Bisli and glow-in-the-dark candies, the more open they might also become to, say, putting Vitamin D in more things. (Orthodox and Muslim women in particular could use more Vitamin D, since their bodies don't encounter a lot of sunlight).

Posted by: Sarah | Jan 31, 2005 4:53:40 PM

You neglected an important property of iodized salt. Iodine keeps salt from clumping together in moisture. Hence the tagline, "When it rains, it pours."

Also, since you are most often using salt without iodine, you might want to use this trick I learned when I worked as a waiter in camp. In order to prevent clumping in salt-shakers when you're not using iodized salt, put several grains of uncooked rice at the bottom. The rice will absorb most of the moisture.

Posted by: velvel | Jan 31, 2005 5:18:47 PM

My parents' last name is Morton, and I have that logo tattooed on my cerebral cortex, due to all the tin signs and boxes people gave us over the years. So I actually knew about the neck lump thing, but if I'd had to guess, I would've called it gout...

Posted by: Tanya | Jan 31, 2005 5:19:02 PM

Does anyone know what makes salt kosher or not kosher?

Posted by: Alice | Jan 31, 2005 5:42:28 PM

Alice: all salt is kosher. "Kosher salt" just means salt used in making meat kosher. Part of what makes meat kosher is that the blood is drained out of it. (The commandment not to eat blood is actually Biblical.) So other than draining the blood out of the animal after it is slaughtered, it is also traditional to let the cut meat sit in salt which pulls all the fluids out of the tissues. "Kosher salt" is just salt with larger crystals, so it's more useful for this purpose, but wouldn't fit through your table shaker.

Being a Jew of recent (and little) education, I would welcome correction from others at David's round table.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Jan 31, 2005 6:25:31 PM


Salt, as is, is kosher (I suppose if you want to be really technical, salt which is processed on machinery which was previously used to process unkosher food might be problematic).

I suspect that you're asking because of the product called "kosher salt." Kosher salt is simply coarse (rock) salt, and, as far as I know, is so named because it is used for salting kosher meat to draw out the blood (blood is forbidden under kosher dietary restrictions).

Posted by: Elan | Jan 31, 2005 6:27:25 PM

"others at David's round table" --- don't plant funny ideas in my head, Dr. Bean.
Theoretically, not all salt is kosher. Right? But you hit the point nevertheless.

Thanks to the new practice of enriching our foods with iodine, I have developed thyroid gland problems. Until doctors have found what it really is, I am told not to eat too much seafood etc. How neat-o is that? If people would eat resonably and governments would promote reasonable eating instead of teaming up with greedy bosses, there would be no need to iodinize salt in most of the countries. Of course do I prefer genuine salts like "fleur de sel", but thanks to someone in high places, this makes me reach ten times deeper into my wallet.

Sarah, have a link for those glow-in-the-dark-candies? Sounds interesting.

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Jan 31, 2005 6:36:00 PM

I love anything having to do with goiters, just because it is one of the funnest words to say.

Posted by: Jim | Jan 31, 2005 7:02:43 PM

Those of us with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, the autoimmune version of hypothyroidism, are instructed by endocrinologists to avoid foods that are very high in iodine, such as kelp. I'm not sure exactly what happens when we eat kelp, but I think I've read somewhere that iodine stimulates the production of more antibodies to attack thyroid tissue, which results in a return to symptoms of hypothyroidism. I don't think iodized salt or sea food is a problem, though.


ps. Doctors always examine my neck for a goiter. I think a lot of them have never seen a goiter before and they're excited by the possibility of catching one on a healthy-looking 23 year old male.

Posted by: Natan | Jan 31, 2005 7:09:52 PM

Very interesting, David! I actually know someone whose father worked for Morton's Salt for 30yrs. :)

Posted by: Lachlan | Jan 31, 2005 8:08:46 PM

We were strictly Diamond Crystal (iodized -- the red and white box) people. I've always sub-consciously thought of Morton's families as being a bit eccentric, possibly prone to leaving odd comments on other people's blogs. Or did I get it backwards...

Posted by: Ben Chorin | Jan 31, 2005 9:01:49 PM

Ben- you must be a New Yorker, In PA where I grew up we used Mortons(blue box yiddish lettering), didnt know another brand existed 'til I reached BP(and my Tante's house) in the late 70's.Come to think pof it NYers do have a tendency to see things as from East of the Hudson. (Yidden? in Pennsylvania? Zai Halten Mitzves?) :-)

Posted by: Shmiel | Feb 1, 2005 1:04:54 AM

The brand stuff distracted me.... Forgot to mention that most of the books in my baking library discourage the use of iodized salt....the Iodine gives an off flavor...Go Figger

Posted by: Shmiel | Feb 1, 2005 1:07:17 AM

Elan... I was going to say just that but you beat me to it.

Sarah... Thanks... that's like four or five new things that I didn't know this morning!

Velvel... Actually, the Morton web site points out that in 1911, they created freeflowing salt by adding magnesium carbonate as an absorbing element. The iodine does not change the physical properties of the salt.

Tanya... Nope, Gout is a build up of Uric acid in muscle tissue. It is extremely painful.

Alice... I see that other members of the round table have taken good care of you.

Thanks Elan and Doctor bean!

mademoiselle a. ... There are two schools of thought on this one. One says that all foods should be left in their natural state and let people be responsible for getting the right amounts of everything. The other is to assume that too large a portion of the population will not get the right amount of certain vitamins and nutrients (placing a needless strain on the healthcare system) so it is better to judiciously introduce these things to commonly consumed foods. The extension of this latter practice is that people with sensitivities to the additives will be a much smaller group than those who would require medical attention without the additives. It does seem unfair that you have to pay so much more for the natural sea salt (even if it is the best).

Jim... True, it does sound like a word that Seinfeld would have tossed around for half of an episode.

Natan... Yeah, I'll bet it is a little off-putting to have a doctor looking at you as a potential published paper rather than purely as a patient.

Lachlan... I've always been fascinated by these brands that were omnipresent in all of our pantries, medicine cabinets and closets. Nobody ever seemed to buy them... they were just there. By the way, I hope things have settled down over at chez Greer.

Ben Chorin... Diamond Crystals, huh? There always seemed to be something vaguely unamerican about you Diamond Crystal families... You know, Morton's had already staked a claim to Blue so they had to run out and grab both Red and White. A little over reaching if you ask me! :-)

Shmiel... What time is it? My post has been up for less than 8 hours and you managed to work Scranton into the story (without really mentioning it). Just like old times! :-)

Posted by: David | Feb 1, 2005 1:23:31 AM

...only shlightly off-topic: why do I see an ad frame for register.com in IE?
[well, it's not there in firefox, but that's because firefox is a good browser :) ]
This ad banner sits there as bottom frame, not even a popup, and is linked to your blog. Is that a new policy chez treppenwitz or chez typepad? Were you naughty and forgot to renew your premium subscription? Anyone else seeing this ad frame?

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Feb 1, 2005 2:53:14 PM

As we are vegetarians and we don't eat much sushi (or other foods with seaweed), Bish and I feel we could do with some iodine supplement. We've been using the salt called "Sea Salt" and in Hebrew "Melach Yam". The type with the iodine is not in a blue container like the regular packaging, but a in sort of light turquoise-y green container. I think it's only marketed in the big supermarket networks, but I could be wrong.

Nice to hear that we don't need to go nuts if we can't find it (not that we were), because we're getting it through the soil (I'm not sure I completely understand that one)

Posted by: Imshin | Feb 1, 2005 4:23:02 PM

mademoiselle a. ... I don't see it here at work. Does anyone else see an ad frame around treppenwitz?

Imshin... Agriculture that takes place near the sea (like much lf Israel's) allows iodine that is in the soil to enter the food chain via vegetables, fruits and even milk products (since the cows eat grass grown in the iodine-rich soil).

Posted by: David | Feb 1, 2005 4:43:29 PM

Thanks for answering my question everyone. Now that leads to two other questions:
1. I thought Kosher salt tasted batter. Now I think that might be my mind playing tricks on me. Do other people think it tastes better?
2. If one shouldn't eat the blood of the animal, does that mean rare steaks are not cool for kosher eaters?

Posted by: Alice | Feb 1, 2005 10:39:10 PM


Can't give you a definite "kosher salt tastes better" across the board, but there are definitely recipies which work better with kosher salt than table salt.

Rare steaks are fine, as long as the meat's been soaked and/or salted before cooking to remove the blood (I've even been brave enough to have tartare a couple of times in my life).

Posted by: Elan | Feb 2, 2005 6:02:12 AM

It was early AM.around when you would have gotten home from a gig without a stop for shawarma. I had retired (too) early and couldn't sleep anymore....You been there?

Posted by: shmiel | Feb 2, 2005 6:46:26 AM

I found your website looking for a picture of a carob tree and then read some of your blogs. I found it all fascinating. Loved the photos of you and the kids, flowers, mountains etc etc.

Wish I could spend more time reading but have things to do. Like LOTS of things to do. Ah me! Thank you and best wishes
Western Australia

Posted by: Gretchen Forrest | Feb 3, 2005 11:28:56 AM

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