What single ingredient can make or break a dish? The answer is salt. Many readers ask us about the different types of salts—table salt, kosher salt, and so on. Let’s look at six common salts and their best use.
Whether it’s used to form a crust around a thick juicy steak, or sprinkled over a chewy chocolate-covered caramel, salt makes food memorable. Too much and you’ve blown it, too little and you’ve missed an opportunity to make taste buds explode. It’s also calorie free. That “salty” taste is one of the most desired flavors by humans, capable of making fruit sweeter, minimizing bitterness in things like cruciferous veggies and adding texture and crunch to pretzels.
As an essential nutrient, we mine it thousands of feet beneath the Earth’s crust and harvest it from the sea. For millennia, salt has been an important commodity. Slaves in ancient Rome were bought with it. The wages of a Roman soldier, who was paid partially in salt, were cut if he “wasn’t worth his salt.”
Today, there are so many different types of salt—pink, grey, black, table, etc. Which one to choose? Salt’s salt, right? Well, no. Here’s the shakedown on some of the most common salts you’ll find and how best to use them.
In the United States, most table salts are iodine fortified. The essential mineral is important for combatting iodine-related thyroid disorders. Highly processed, table salt is stripped of any minerals and often contains an anti-caking additive. Try it in pasta water and in recipes that require very exact measurements like baked goods.
Named for the Jewish process of meat preparation which requires that meat be devoid of blood, kosher salt with its large coarse crystals does an excellent job. Its milder flavor lends itself well to most recipes. It’s also fast to dissolve and just as good on a steak as it is on popcorn.
Also called preserving salt or canning salt, pickling salt contains no additives (like anti-caking ingredients) and therefore won’t cloud pickling water. The fine granules are easy to dissolve and should be kept in an air-tight container to prevent clumping. It’s a very concentrated salt and one should use a less is more approach when working with it. Great for vegetable gardeners wanting to preserve the flavors of summer.
Himalayan Pink Salt
Harvested in the foothills of the Himalayas, this pink salt gets its distinct coloring from the minerals it contains, mostly iron (rust). As the fashionable salt of the moment, it’s favored by many who tout its many health benefits. All that aside, it has a slightly lower sodium content than regular salt and probably looks hipper on the dinner table than its counterpart. Personally, I can’t detect much of a difference.
Looking for an “eggy” flavor to add to your recipes? This salt’s for you. Commonly used in Southeast Asian recipes, black salt (or Kala namak) has a strong Sulphuric odor due to the Indian spices and herbs that are heated into it at extremely high temperatures. Seeds from the harad fruit contain Sulphur that is released into the salt during the cooking process. While very pungent as it cooks in a recipe, the odor dissipates and leaves behind an eggy flavor great for egg-free dishes.
This salt is derived from evaporated seawater and is harvested all over the world. It can be found in fine, coarse or flaked textures with variances in color based on the minerals it contains. Crystalline varieties are best for adding that finishing touch to just-cooked foods like salmon. Even a salad would benefit from a pinch. Flaked sea salt is fast-dissolving and an excellent choice sprinkled over vegetables. Fleur de Sel (which means “flower of salt” in French), the Cadillac of all salts, is hand-harvested from coastal salt ponds in France. This isn’t an ordinary seasoning, but one best used as a garnish over a dish just before serving. It comes with a hefty price tag too. You might even consider announcing its presence to your guests who can then ooohhh and aaahhhh.
At approximately $30 per pound, this salt has special occasion sprinkled all over it.
Did you know: Salt can also work to fix many of our unexpected challenges around the house. Here are some of our favorite household uses of salt.
And let’s talk about salt’s partner: pepper! Here’s a wonderful post on where pepper comes from—and its surprising health benefits.