Kitchen Confidence

10 Salts to Know

By • May 8, 2012 • 40 Comments

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Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. Today, we're talking about an essential ingredient: salt.

Salt Selection

From religion and folklore to wars and economics, salt has played a vital role in human history. (Mark Kurlansky dedicated an entire book to this subject.) An ancient mineral cultivated for thousands of years from the northern province of Shanxi, China to the medieval town of Guérande in Bretagne, France, salt is an essential part of our diets.

With so many different types of salt, knowing how and when to use each one can be a bit daunting. There are baking salts, cooking salts and finishing salts. There are rock salts and sea salts, and salts that have been smoked or seasoned. And, of course, there is the much revered Kosher salt.

Here, we take a look at 10 salts you're likely to encounter in recipes and at the grocery store. Once you're done reading, head over to the shop to round out your salt tool box with both everyday and special occasion salts from The Meadow. For a more extensive guide on salts, check out Mark Bitterman's book Salted: A Manifesto on the World's Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes.

Table Salt

Table Salt: Refined salt mined from underground salt deposits, table salt contains more sodium chloride (97% to 99%) than sea salt. This is what you usually find in salt shakers at dining tables and at restaurants. Most table salts contain additives such as anticaking agents and iodine, an essential nutrient.  

Kosher Salt: Kosher salt, which originates from either the sea or the earth, is so named for its use in the preparation of meat according to Jewish dietary guidelines. However, not all Kosher salt is certified Kosher. Kosher salt dissolves easily and quickly, making it a good all-purpose salt. Popular brands include Morton and Diamond Crystal.

Sel Gris, Gros Sel

Sel Gris: Harvested from salt evaporation ponds, sel gris -- "grey salt" in French -- is also known as Celtic sea salt and is a coarse sea salt that is raked once salt crystals have sunk to the bottom of the ponds. Moist, granular, and chunky, sel gris is used as both a cooking salt and finishing salt. While it's ideal for fatty meats and roasted root vegetables, Mark Bitterman also suggests using this mineral-rich salt in baking. Try it in a rustic tart crust, for instance.  

Gros Sel: Another sea salt, gros sel is made up of large-grained crystals -- hence its name in French, "large salt." Keep it in a salt grinder for freshly ground sea salt, use it to create a salt crust on meat or fish, or use it to season pasta water. 

Flake Salt, Fleur de Sel

Flake Salt: Produced by boiling or evaporating brine, flake salts have varying crystal structures and lower trace mineral content than other salts, including fleur de sel and sel gris. Used as a finishing salt for fresh foods such as salads, flake salt pops, giving a pleasant crunch to every bite. 

Fleur de Sel: Hand-harvested from the same salt evaporation ponds as sel gris, this sea salt is collected by scraping salt crystals from the water's surface before the crystals sink to the bottom of the evaporation ponds. Fleur de sel -- "flower of salt" in French -- is traditionally, though not exclusively, harvested in Guérande, Brittany. The delicate, irregular crystals gently dissolve, making it a great finishing salt. Try it on fish, pork and vegetables. If you can afford it, Bitterman suggests using fleur de sel as your go-to all-purpose cooking salt.  

Hawaiian Sea Salt, Smoked Salt

Hawaiian Sea Salt: This fine or coarse grained sea salt can be either red or black. Red Hawaiian sea salt gets its color from a natural mineral called Alaea, a volcanic baked red clay, while black Hawaiian sea salt gets its color from the addition of charcoal. Full of trace minerals, Hawaiian sea salt complements pork, seafood, ceviche and more.

Smoked Salt: This salt is slow-smoked over a wood fire to infuse the crystals with a deep, smokey flavor, making it ideal for grilled meats and heartier vegetables such as potatoes.

Seasoned Salt: Salt can be seasoned with a variety of different flavorings, including truffles, lemon, herbs and more. Truffles impart an earthiness to sea salt, making it an ideal flavoring for risottos, red meats, and egg dishes. A seasoned salt such as lemon flake salt, on the other hand, is great for cocktails or grilled vegetables.

Himalayan Salt

Himalayan Salt: Hand-mined from ancient sea salt deposits from the Khewra Salt Mine in Pakistan, Himalayan salt is rich in minerals and believed to be one of the purest salts available -- hence its frequent use in spa treatments. It ranges in color from pure white to shades of pink and deep red. Hand cut into slabs, Himalayan salt is frequently used as a surface for serving food. Due to their ability to hold a specific temperature for an extended period of time, these slabs can be used for anything from serving cold ice cream to cooking fish, meats, and vegetables. Himalayan salt can also be used as a cooking or finishing salt. Or use it to rim the edge of a glass for a warm-weather cocktail.

What are your favorite all-purpose and special occasion salts? Let us know in the comments!

Tags: kitchen confidence, salt, kosher salt, table salt, fleur de sel, sel gris, gros sel, flake salt, hawaiian sea salt, seasoned salt, smoked salt, how-to & diy

Comments (40)

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Stringio

5 months ago Sharon Gil

Greatly informed!...thanks.

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5 months ago frenchy43

holy crap!! i was taught as a young boy to cook as Mom might not always "be around" and someone needed to know how to cook. I am now 70 and had NO idea there were that many salts. Thnx for the info. I do the cooking and my new lady does the kitchen work. There were several salts I will have to acquire.

Stringio

over 1 year ago louise.gaudet.50

Hi Laura, I enjoyed your article. I just want to mention a salt probably no one has heard of.
Kelp salt. We are a small seaweed harvesting company and one of our by product is salt from within the kelp. Pure powdery, cream colored, wonderful umami tasting salt. You can view a picture and info here: http://www.bckelp.com/KelpSaltonline...

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almost 2 years ago stevep98

Really surprised no one mentioned the hilarious Onion "Salt of the Month Club": http://latrec.deviantart...

"A pound of artisinal salt delivered to your doorstep every month".

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almost 2 years ago sandra baptista

What about top-quality, Portuguese Flor de Sal? From www.savoryspiceshop.com:

Portuguese salt is noticeably whiter then the French and climate is one of the reasons why. The Algarve region of Portugal has less rain and a hotter sun than Brittany and other French regions. Another reason is the Portuguese care that is exercised in leaving the clay undisturbed at the bottom of the salt pans. No additional processing occurs from the time the salt is harvested and dried prior to being packaged for consumption. Finally this salt proudly adheres to the quality standards outlined by “Nature et Progres”, the equivalent to certified organic produce. The “Nature et Progres” seal ensures that the salt has been tested for and found free of certain contaminants. This is a top quality salt that is great as a finisher on fish, eggs, pastas, meats and more.

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almost 2 years ago JulieS

I have one more addition for the use of Truffle Salt. I pop my own popcorn on the stove, drizzle with EVOO and a generous sprinkle of truffle salt. Pair it with a glass of red wine and you have the perfect evening snack!

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almost 2 years ago Merry

I cook with HImalayan salt all the time! I love to sprinkle it on dishes as a finishing salt and at other times I toss it in the soup PoT!

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almost 2 years ago cgh

Thanks for doing a post on salt! I love special salts, and am lucky to have an assortment of salt cellars and tiny spoons passed down from my family. Santa often puts a fancy salt in my stocking, and I still have a bag of fleur de sel from my honeymoon in Paris 15 years ago.

Favorite fancy salt use: steaks and hamburgers in a cast iron pan. I mix smoked salt with kosher salt in a food processor to get the right amount of smokiness for my family, then I keep this on hand labeled "searing salt". I sprinkle the cast iron pan with my searing salt and heat it just about as hot as my stove will allow. I cook the burgers or steaks so they are rare on the inside and crusted on the outside. If possible, I move the meat to an unused part of the pan when filpping so that both sides of the meat get the salt treatment. Yum.

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almost 2 years ago Dasha18

We were in Kazakhstan in the winter of '07 adopting and found the regular bagged salt (as well as the root vegetables) much more flavorful than here.

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almost 2 years ago gbatrucks

Living near the west coast of Mexico, I really enjoy the mild briney sea salt from Cuyutlan. I keep a jar of it handy that I've smoked over applewood on my "Big Chief" smoker. Cuyutlan even has a museum dedicated to the town's salt industry. See: http://sparks-mexico.com...

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almost 2 years ago K.N.Vinod

Nice article! Have you all tried the black salt - aka - "kala namak" ?
Though in the rock form it is black ; what is available in the market mostly is in the powdered form which is pinkish in color.

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almost 2 years ago K.N.Vinod

Nice article! Have you all tried the black salt - aka - "kala namak" ?
Though in the rock form it is black ; what is available in the market mostly is in the powdered form which is pinkish in color.

Img_0495

almost 2 years ago K.N.Vinod

Nice article! Have you all tried the black salt - aka - "kala namak" ?
Though in the rock form it is black ; what is available in the market mostly is in the powdered form which is pinkish in color.

Img_0495

almost 2 years ago K.N.Vinod

Nice article! Have you all tried the black salt - aka - "kala namak" ?
Though in the rock form it is black ; what is available in the market mostly is in the powdered form which is pinkish in color.

Img_0495

almost 2 years ago K.N.Vinod

Nice article! Have you all tried the black salt - aka - "kala namak" ?
Though in the rock form it is black ; what is available in the market mostly is in the powdered form which is pinkish in color.

Img_0495

almost 2 years ago K.N.Vinod

Nice article! Have you all tried the black salt - aka - "kala namak" ?
Though in the rock form it is black ; what is available in the market mostly is in the powdered form which is pinkish in color.

Img_0495

almost 2 years ago K.N.Vinod

Nice article! Have you all tried the black salt - aka - "kala namak" ?
Though in the rock form it is black ; what is available in the market mostly is in the powdered form which is pinkish in color.

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almost 2 years ago Kringler

How about Redmond Real Salt from Utah?

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almost 2 years ago salter

"Himalayan salt is rich in minerals and believed to be one of the purest salts available."

Aren't those two concepts entirely contradictory? From the "Salt Institute":

"Salt purity is defined as the percentage of sodium chloride in the final crystal; a higher number means fewer impurities. The impurities are other minerals, not necessarily detrimental to the salt’s intended use, but not contributing to the benefit of salt."

http://www.saltinstitute...

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almost 2 years ago gourmettenyc

Hi salter. You bring up a good point. In this case, "pure" refers to the fact that the salt comes from salt deposits that formed millions of years ago, making it virtually polluant and toxin free. However, you are correct in saying that it is not pure sodium chloride as a result of its rich mineral content.

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almost 2 years ago reddragon

If pickling salts are unadulterated, fine-grained salts, why don't we use them for everyday cooking?