Salt (sodium chloride) is a crystalline mineral that enhances the flavor and aroma of foods. Producers mine it from thick underground deposits or evaporate seawater and extract the crystals. Cooks most often use table salt, sea salt, and kosher salt. With a little research you’ll find many other interesting salt varieties to choose from, as well. Try some of the different types and experience the unique flavors and textures.
Table salt is the most common type of salt found in the average home kitchen and in restaurant salt shakers. The majority of today’s table salt comes from deep salt mines or from large dried-up salt lakes. Manufacturers add anticaking agents to their fine-grained refined table salt to create a free-flowing product. They offer both iodized and plain, non-iodized types. American health authorities introduced iodized salt in the 1920s to help prevent hypothyroidism. Many agree that table salt has a noticeably bitter taste compared to unprocessed salts. For this reason, chefs and cooks often prefer kosher or other salts.
Sea salt comes from evaporated seawater. At 3 percent salt by weight, the oceans hold a limitless supply of NaCl. There are two varieties of sea salt: ground (fine or coarse) and flaked. Most artisanal salts are sea salt. More costly than mined salt, sea salt is typically more flavorful and less refined. Search for a brand that is additive free.
Many assume that Kosher salt is certified kosher, but that’s not the case for all brands. The name for these large irregularly shaped crystals derives from their utility: They are ideal for curing kosher meat. Cleaner, less pungently flavored certified kosher salt lacks additives and is an excellent alternative to table salt. Because of its larger grain size, a given volume of kosher salt can weigh less than table salt so you might need to add more while following a recipe. Kosher salt is versatile and an all-purpose seasoning that many chefs find appropriate for all kinds of cooking.
Flake salt comes in two varieties: paper-thin flakes or pyramid-shaped crystals. Both result from evaporating seawater and then bringing the brine to a slow boil until the snowflake-like crystals form. Being both fast dissolving and pleasantly crunchy, flake salt makes an excellent finish for vegetables, meats, or most any foods. Add flake salt to butter to turn ordinary butter into a special treat.
Fleur de Sel
Fleur de Sel, French for “flower of salt,” is often called the king of salts. Fleur de Sel requires labor-intensive hand harvesting. Workers gently rake the salt from the surface of the salt evaporation pans. They gather the delicate young crystals once per year in the summer. With its delicate earthy flavor and moist texture, Fleur de Sel is a chef staple. Though expensive, Fleur de Sel is the best all around finishing salt for salads, vegetables, and meats. If you can afford it, choose it for all types of cooking.
Sel Gris, French for grey salt, is hand-harvested in the same salt pans as Fleur de Sel. As the salt crystals enlarge, they sink to the bottom of the separating pan and workers gently rake out and gather the largest ones. The salt gets its light grey color by absorbing tiny quantities of clay at the bottom of the pans. Sel Gris is coarser than Fleur de Sel but is similarly moist. Denser than either table or kosher salt, Sel Gris is an ideal all around cooking and finishing salt.
Himalayan salt is one of the purest salts available. Hand-mined in Pakistan, Himalayan rock salt ranges from white to light pink to red. Because the salt can hold heat for a specific time, cooks use blocks of it while preparing or serving food (hot or cold). Ground Himalayan salt is also a good seasoning for meats or for finishing salads, soups, or stews.
Hawaiian salt, sometime called Alaea salt, is unrefined sea salt mixed with red alaea volcanic clay. Rich in trace minerals, Hawaiian salt is expensive and difficult to find. Many manufacturers sell Hawaiian salt under this name even though it’s manufactured in California. Hawaiian salt adds unique flavor and a pop of ruddy color to food.
The two most common types of black salt are Kala Namak and Black Hawaiian. Kala Namak is a pungent smelling rock salt commonly used in South Asian cooking. Black Hawaiian salt comes from black lava rock and activated charcoal infused with sea salt.
Smoked Sea Salt
Smoked sea salt and smoke-flavored salts differ. The latter contains liquid smoke or similar added smoke flavor. Smoked salt is made in a real wood smoker. Producers usually smoke the salt for five to 10 days to achieve the unique aromatic flavor so tasty on meats and vegetables.
Seasoned, Flavored or Infused Salts
Seasoned, flavored, or infused salts are salts blended with herbs, spices, garlic, onion, celery, or other ingredients.