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Whether we are cooking or baking, salt is an essential ingredient. It enhances flavor, adds balance and helps preserve foods. With numerous varieties of salt available – each one slightly different – how does one choose what is best to use? Here is some basic information for the most common types of salt found in grocery and specialty food stores.
This is the standard salt most of us grew up with packaged in the round cardboard box. It has small crystals that easily fit through tiny holes in salt shakers. Most table salt is iodized, which means it contains potassium iodide. Potassium iodide is an anti-caking agent and also was originally used to counteract iodine deficiencies in many people’s diets. Iodized table salt gives off a slight metallic flavor which may not the best option for cooking. It also is highly processed, which many try to avoid. Because it is consistent in flavor and granular size. table salt is best used for baking.
This all-purpose salt comes in coarse or fine grain options. Culinary professionals prefer to use Kosher salt because it is more cost effective than sea salt, additive free, and has a lighter, cleaner taste. It also adheres easily, spreads evenly, and dissolves quickly. It can be used in any application –
- cooking (coarse or fine grain)
- baking (fine grain)
- brining (fine grain)
Kosher salt is lower in salinity than table salt, but the level of salinity can vary by brand. Morton’s Kosher salt provides approximately 1 ½ times more salt flavor than Diamond Crystal brand. It is recommended to taste before using and adjust accordingly in recipes.
Sea salt is just that, salt that is left behind after evaporating sea water. The crystals can be fine, coarse or flaky, and can range in color due to local minerals. Depending on where they are produced, different varieties of sea salt have varied flavor characteristics. Some may be more pungent, so less is required. Others may be lighter flavored and work well with more delicate foods. Sea salt can be used in both cooking and baking, however, because of the flavor and texture variances, it is best used as a finishing salt.
Curing and Pickling Salts
Salt is used to dry and preserve foods, and also for brining, pickling and curing. Kosher and sea salts can be used for these processes, but specifically formulated salts are often recommended in recipes. Look for those labeled as “pickling” or “curing” salt.
This more exclusive and luxurious category of salt is best used as a finishing touch for food. It is fun and interesting to have some of these salts available in your pantry, but because they are more expensive they are not cost effective for use in everyday cooking. Although there are many specialty salts, some more common varieties include:
- Himalayan Pink Salt
- Hawaiian Black Salt
- Red Hawaiian Sea Salt
- Maldon Sea Salt
- Fleur de Sel
- Celtic Gray Sea Salt
- Smoked Salt
These salts are beautifully colored from the minerals in their locale and provide varied, interesting flavor profiles. They pair well with savory and sweet foods – think grilled or roasted seafood on pasta garnished with Himalayan Pink Salt, or chocolate-caramel cookies with Fleur de Sel.
More about Salt
- Natural salt generally does not go bad or lose its flavor. Table salt with additives has a shelf life of five years.
- Store salt in a cool, dry place, away from moisture. An airtight container is recommended. If placing salt into a small bowl for sprinkling, use small amounts and try to use it within a few days. Cover any remaining amount.
- Taste, taste, taste – to learn the differences in the types of salt you are using in your kitchen.
- Start seasoning dishes with small amounts of salt. It’s easier to add more later than to tone down an over-salted dish.
- To help an over salted dish, try adding water or unseasoned broth, sugar, honey or molasses, milk or cream, or an acid like vinegar or lemon juice.
- Fish and seafood are naturally high in salt, so very little is needed to season them. In fact, too much salt can cause them to become tough and rubbery.
- To cut back on the amount of salt in a recipe, season with more herbs and spices, and add a splash of balsamic vinegar or citrus juice.
For further information on salt, you may enjoy these resources:
- What Are Finishing Salts, and When Should You Use Each One? – Martha Stewart Living
- Tips for Cooking with Salt – The Spruce Eats
- Salt Types and Measures – Cooks Illustrated
- Salt Buying Guide – Jacobsen Salt Company
- Salt Uses and Tips – Saltworks
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