If you want to take your kitchen game to the next level, learning to use the correct salt — and the proper amounts at the right times — is perhaps the most important key to superb cooking.
Salt is possibly the most common household ingredient, with the Morton salt girl being as recognizable as American staples come. Most of us don’t think twice about using common table salt in any and every recipe we whip up, or using a shake or two at the dinner table. It’s only when visiting the grocery store that we see all the variations of salts that are available: sea salt, kosher salt, refined and non-refined sea salts — even pink Himalayan salt. But is there really a difference?
The answer is of course yes, absolutely. The chemical makeup and density of different salts vary so widely from one another they will each change the taste of a dish completely. Contrary to popular belief, fine iodized Morton salt is not interchangeable with a flaky sea salt, or even kosher salt. Even different types of kosher salts vary from one another and will act differently in a recipe. And if all that isn’t complicated enough, it also makes a difference when you add salt to a recipe — at the beginning, middle, or end.
Choosing the correct salt and knowing how to use it can take an ordinary dish and make it mind-blowing (think a chocolate chip cookie with a decadent sprinkle of sea salt), but it can also just as easily ruin a dish. If you want to take your kitchen game to the next level and really impress your friends, learning to use the correct salt — and the proper amounts at the right times — is perhaps the most important key to superb cooking.
Table and Iodized Salt
Oftentimes less than a dollar at the grocery store, simple table salt is by far the most widely recognized salt. If there’s salt on a table in a restaurant, it’s almost a sure bet it’s iodized table salt. But should this salt really be treated as a “catch-all” salt?
Samin Nosrat, author of the wildly popular cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, does not think so. Called the “next Julia Child” by NPR, Nosrat has been cooking professionally since 2000 and has literally written the book on salt usage. She goes as far as to say that if all dishes were salted properly during the cooking process, all salt shakers could and should be eliminated from diners’ hands.
Cheap iodized table salt is typically mined from underground salt deposits and then heavily processed through crystallization in a closed vacuum chamber to eliminate minerals. Table salt also contains anti-caking agents and, much of the time, iodine.
What’s with the iodine? It started in 1924, when iodine deficiency was common and could cause goiters, a growth in the thyroid gland. To remedy this, Morton Salt began adding iodine to table salt, to great effect in public health.
But adding iodine to salt can give it an unpleasant metallic taste, so Nosrat suggests it be skipped over altogether, since most of the population no longer suffers from low iodine. As a result of its processing, table salt can also be very, very salty due to its dense structure, making it very easy to over-salt a dish.
Suggested Use: Nosrat does not suggest using table salt.
Kosher salt is the salt used in koshering meats — a traditional Jewish process to remove the blood. Kosher salt is larger and grainier, and since there are no additives, it also tastes very pure. There are two main kinds of kosher salt on the market: Morton and Diamond Crystal. Most of us are probably familiar with the Morton brand, but it actually varies greatly from Diamond Crystal in its processing method and in the way it interacts with food. Morton is much denser and actually twice as salty by volume.
Suggested Use: Because of its lighter, hollow flakes, Diamond Crystal will dissolve twice as fast as Morton, making it ideal to use in dishes cooked quickly. Nosrat says Morton and Diamond Crystal may not be used interchangeably, so use the specified brand in a recipe.
There are various ways in which sea salt is procured and processed, resulting in highly differing salts. The most common is refined sea salt and is also relatively cheap at the grocery store. Its large, shiny white granular crystals are made by rapidly boiling down ocean water in a closed vacuum.
Suggested Use: Ideal for everyday cooking, and for seasoning foods from within (in water for boiling pasta or veggies, or on roasts or stew meats).
Pink Himalayan Salt
Mined near Pakistan, Himalayan salt is rock salt known for its distinct pink color. It does not, however, come directly from the Himalayas, as the name leads people to think. The taste is very similar to table salt.
Suggested Use: Some have claimed that Himalayan salt has more health benefits than regular salt, but this has not been scientifically proven.
Fleur de Sel
You may not be able to find Fleur de Sel in an average grocery store, but it would be a good idea to head to a specialty grocer to keep some on hand. Literally meaning “flower of salt,” Fleur de Sel’s light, flaky crystals come from special sea salt beds in Western France. Known as a “solar sea salt,” this far less refined ocean salt is allowed to evaporate naturally under the sun — sometimes taking as long as five years.
Suggested Use: Because it is more expensive due to its low-yield, labor-intensive method, Fleur de Sel should not be used during the cooking process (like boiling pasta or veggies), but rather as a “finishing” salt. Both the taste and delicate crystal structure should be shown off, so use it as a garnish at the end of a dish (to chocolate chip cookies, or to a fresh crisp salad).
Meaning “gray salt,” Sel Gris comes from the same salt pans as Fleur de Sel but is allowed to come into contact with the bottom of the pan before being harvested. These crunchy, grainy salt crystals attract various minerals — especially calcium sulfate and magnesium chloride — giving the pure white crystals a grayish hue. It is a “moist” salt, meaning it will not remove moisture from foods like kosher salt does.
Suggested Use: Can be used in cooking, baking, or as a finishing salt; will impart an earthy, savory flavor, and pairs well with roasted root veggies, or grilled or braised meats.
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