There are so many great conversations on the Hotline—it's hard to choose a favorite. But we'll be doing it, once a week, to spread the wealth of our community's knowledge—and to keep the conversation going.
Today: A grain of truth on when it's okay to swap salts.
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Good ol' sodium chloride: We love you, we need you, we crave you. Our dishes are better because of you. But do you have to be so complicated with all your names? And why all those different shapes? Do we need to use each of you differently?
Essentially, evaporation determines salt's crystal shape. If evaporation occurs rapidly and in a closed container, small, regular-sized crystals form. This is table salt. If evaporation occurs slowly and in a semi-open container, the salt solidifies into pyramid-shaped, irregular flakes—like Maldon.
So if it's all just crystals, is one salt equivalent to another salt, just in different shapes? The answer: No. Here's why, broken down by salt type:
Granulated, table salt: It's the densest of the bunch, but dissolves the fastest because of its small crystal size. Table salt contains additives to prevent the crystals from absorbing moisture and sticking to one another.
Iodized salt: Like its name suggests, iodized salt has potassium iodide added to it (a practice that began in 1924, to prevent iodide deficiency).
Kosher salt: With coarser, more irregular crystals, kosher salt is also additive-free.
Flake salt: Minimally processed and with a flat, extended shape, flake salt's the easiest to handle and add by the pinch.
The big question: Is using a different salt than a recipe calls for worth it or not worth it?
For general seasoning purposes (i.e. when the salt will dissolve into the final dish), it doesn't matter if you use kosher salt or table salt. But you do need to pay attention to what the recipe's calling for. If it calls for kosher salt and you sub in granulated salt, you'll need to use less of it since it's denser than kosher salt. This is also the time to put the flaky salt away: Its craggy flakes are difficult to accurately measure when following a recipe and its unique texture and flavor nuances are lost when used for general seasoning instead of finishing.
When it's worth it:
For seasoning while cooking: If you're looking to avoid the funky flavor additives in table salt can occasionally impart, stick with kosher. Plus, when cooking, kosher's larger grains make it easier to pick up and estimate how much seasoning you're adding.
For finishing dishes: Flaky salt is ideal—it dissolves rapidly and imparts bursts of flavor and texture.