Once upon a time and not so very long ago, when you needed salt, you walked out of the store with a blue container bearing the image of a little girl with an umbrella. From its humble beginnings 161 years ago, the Morton Company has been the leading producer of salt and salt-related products. But today, they are being upstaged by the new kids on the block. Today we’re going to discuss everything about salt, different salt types and how to use them.
Different Salt Types
Salt – or sodium chloride – NaCl – is a necessary component of life. The oceans are full of it, but it also occurs in mineral deposits – this is what we call rock salt. Little known fact, your blood is 1% salt…and you sweat salt out of your body. It is also a vital ingredient in the cooking process. In fact, recent studies indicate that salt takes on the properties of an anti-depressant (see Pass the Salt … and Prozac Please), and that may be the reason Americans have had such a love affair with salty foods over the years.
Salt, however, is assuming a new role in the kitchen, as gourmet salt types with designer labels are becoming one of the hottest selling items in food specialty stores and through online retailers. Cooks have discovered that not all salt is created equal, and many of the exotic and esoteric varieties provide subtle taste and textural changes to food that make the meal more interesting, flavorful and appealing.
DYK: You can use a water and salt paste to clean cast iron pans. Rinse as much debris from the pan as possible. Mix about 1-2 tablespoons of salt with a little water water (just a few drops) to make a paste. Scrub with a dish cloth or paper towel. Then dry & season with oil.
“What you want to do is enhance the natural flavor of food. You want to bring out all the flavor without making it salty,” said Eric Cohen, chef at Julep’s New Southern Cuisine in Richmond, Virginia. “It adds depth to your cooking.”
Jimmy Sneed, chef at Sugar Toad in suburban Chicago, trained under the late, legendary Jean-Louis Palladin, who called himself the King of Salt. “The salt I use comes from southern Utah,” Sneed explained. “It comes from a single block of salt that was buried 150 million years ago, during the Jurassic period. There are no pollutants because it’s 150 million years old.”
Sneed has been using RealSalt for more than a decade. He considers it sweeter than other varieties. He makes his point by serving his hallmark red pepper soup without salt. When people complain that it is too bitter, he adds RealSalt. This demonstrates how salt can make foods taste sweeter. “If I used regular salt, it would get too salty before it got too sweet,” he explains.
Try putting a little bit of salt on a slice of watermelon, and you can achieve the same effect yourself.
Table Salt: This type of salt typically contains iodine as an additive (at least in the USA) which is noticeable in cooking. This type of salt forms crystals.
Rock Salt: This type of salt is mined from underground. It is normally used in ice cream making and in salt mills for home and restaurant use.
Kosher Salt: Unlike table salt, Kosher salt does not contain additives, one of the reasons certain recipes will ask for this salt type. Kosher salt is less dense than table salt and has a different shape (flakes instead of crystals0. It weighs less than table salt, so it tastes less salty than table salt. This means that the amounts of Kosher salt used in cooking will be different than table salt.
DYK Is Kosher salt kosher? Yes, but then again all salt is. This type of salt is called kosher because it is used in the process of making meats kosher.
Sea Salt: This salt comes from the sea and it oftentimes contains more elements than sodium chloride. It is the product of evaporated sea water. Like pink salt, it contains other elements like magnesium and calcium. What’s really fun about sea salt is that the place of origin will alter the flavor of the salt, so sea salt from the Mediterranean will taste different than sea salt from the Indian ocean.
Pink Salt: Pink salt is…well…pink. There are various types of pink salt including Himalayan, Alaea, and even some curing salts. It gets its color from trace minerals such as iron. This adds fun to your table, but regular kosher salt will do when it comes to flavor.
DYK: Salt never goes bad. It’s non-organic, so as long as you keep it away from moisture it should be a-ok and great for preserving food products such as meats and vegetables.
Sel gris: This salt comes from the bottom of the salt pond and is from Normandy in France. Its name comes from its grey color which is derived from the minerals that reside in the clay where this type of salt is harvested.
Fleur de sel: This is a light thing crystal flower of salt that is formed on top of a salt pond of the sel gris marshes. It’s great for adding texture and crunch to dishes.
Smoked Salt: True smoked salt is made by smoking the salt over a fire. Cheaper producers will add liquid smoke to a salt before it has evaporated.
International Salt Types
Himalayan salt comes from Pakistan and is known for its lovely pale pink color which comes from trace amounts of minerals including magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Some hail it better for your health because of these minerals, but the jury is out on its health benefits. What makes this salt particularly interesting is that it is not sea salt. As usual, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t. That being said, this salt adds a gorgeous touch to your table.
Most of us are familiar with Himalayan rock salt as a non-sea salt. If you are a fan of this kind of salt, you may want to look at Peruvian Salt. As mentioned, this is not a sea salt. It comes from the Andes in Peru at an elevation of 3,400 meters and is mined from salt evaporation ponds called Las Salineras. These salt pools have been there since the times of the Incas and are run by less than 400 local families.
Many manufacturers of soups, chips, nuts, meat, and prepared foods are beginning to switch to sea salt as the quality, consistency, and cleanliness issues are standardized and producers are making large quantities readily available to their commercial customers. So it looks like a wave of sea salt users is starting to come in with the changing tides.
Experimenting with different types of salts in the kitchen can be delicious fun. Although several of the specialty salts are outside of the budget of many home cooks during these lean economic times, you can still find affordable gourmet salts at your local grocery or at major online storefronts. So add a dash of panache to your upcoming dinners with some granulated goodness.
Shake it on baby … twist and salt!