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.

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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!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • UK_Rabbit
  • agrohub
  • Susan
  • Rob Bills
    Rob Bills
  • Bumdadeebum Davina
    Bumdadeebum Davina
I'm Laura Loesch-Quintin, a food writer and photographer, as well as the voice behind the recipe blog gourmette•nyc. Originally from Philadelphia, I was raised in a French-American household where vinaigrette, cornichons, and clafoutis were (and still are) staples. When not cooking, writing, or photographing, I can usually be found exploring the food markets of New York City.


UK_Rabbit December 5, 2022
G'day guys, don't forget that Pink Himalayian (Pakistani, Indian, Nepalese) salt has had TNT used to blow it up! So it is contaminated with nitroglycerine! This is NOT GOOD FOR YOU! ☠️😵☠️😵☠️
Please update your article!
agrohub October 9, 2021
If you’ve got a glowing Himalayan pink salt bulb in your bedroom or a gorgeous pink Himalayan salt cutting board from your neighborhood home goods store, pink Himalayan salt is giving you lots of benefits. Best Himalayan salt may naturally do your bifocals, whether you eat it, apply it to your skin, or use that to the bathtub.
Susan February 21, 2021
I was just sitting here enjoying my covid induced enui reading through this article on salt and noticed a reference to Mark Bittman as Mark Bitterman, which if he were not such a giant in the world of food, would likely be less funny! Blaming the “ enui”!
Rob B. December 11, 2017
What about salt from the Sahara Desert in Mali, West Africa? Is this a different crystal from an ancient sea?
Bumdadeebum D. June 3, 2016
hey, what about "Maldon" sea salt!!
huckkam October 19, 2018
I love Maldon! I am actually going to cover this salt in a blog post this weekend! It is one of my favorites to use to garnish delicate whipped creams, ice creams, and custards. The softness of the product really highlights the pyramid shaped crunch you get from Maldon.
julie B. February 21, 2015
One of my new favorite salts is volcanic has a slight hard boiled egg flavor and gives a nice kick to fresh raw veggies
Lance S. July 14, 2014
What a wonderful article on salt! I first learned of alternatives to "table salt" many years ago when the Challenger disaster occurred and I vowed at the time to never use Morton salt again. (Morton is a division of the company which made the seals that directly led to the death of the Challenger astronauts.)

At that time, my search led me to pink salt, virtually the only salt on the market I was sure wasn't a part of the Morton family. Since then, my pantry has been graced by nearly a dozen other salts I keep on hand for a variety of uses. In just the past year or so I've begun experimenting with salt slabs when serving. There are few foods which the slabs don't compliment either visually or by what they may impart to that which they carry.
Elizabeth V. May 10, 2014
I like to use Cyprus Flake salt as a finishing salt - it has large, hollow pyramid shaped crystals so it tends to sit on top of the food, and not melt away. It gives a nice crunchy salt burst. It's a pure white salt, with a fresh salty taste. The flakes are large so you need to use a light hand when salting with this one.
Sharon G. December 9, 2013
Greatly informed!...thanks.
frenchy43 December 8, 2013
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.
louise.gaudet.50 November 24, 2012
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:
stevep98 May 18, 2012
Really surprised no one mentioned the hilarious Onion "Salt of the Month Club":

"A pound of artisinal salt delivered to your doorstep every month".
sandra B. May 11, 2012
What about top-quality, Portuguese Flor de Sal? From

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.
JulieS May 10, 2012
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!
Merry May 9, 2012
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!
cgh May 9, 2012
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.
Dasha18 May 9, 2012
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.
gbatrucks May 9, 2012
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:
K.N.Vinod May 9, 2012
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.
K.N.Vinod May 9, 2012
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.