Choosing Between The Various Types for Health And Taste
There’s so much to say about salt.
Everyone uses it, some abuse it. Your body needs it. Your brain runs on it. The heart shuns it. The tongue loves that taste.
But what is salt? Are there varieties that have a better flavor? Are there types that are more healthy than others?
What is Salt?
The crystals left behind after sea water evaporates are referred to as salt or sodium chloride. Most culinary salts are created in this way. The environment will affect the composition and color, which is why there are so many different varieties to choose from today.
Found virtually everywhere on earth and requiring no processing, this concentration of sodium will also contain traces of the minerals and other particles found in the environment around where it was formed. Variations in these compounds, such as the inclusion of calcium or magnesium, create unique varieties that may have differing tastes and/or hues.
The common types found on your kitchen countertop or dining room table include granulated, coarse, kosher, or fine sea salt. The most common table varieties are generally harvested from underground mines. Once mined, the product is refined until only sodium chloride remains.
With most of the natural minerals removed, it lacks any additional benefits other than the sodium, which is actually necessary in certain amounts for your nervous system to function properly. This variety is available plain or iodized.
Iodized salt is created by spraying it with iodine. Manufacturers began iodizing sodium during the Great Depression when people started suffering from goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland caused by an iodine deficiency.
This is an unnecessary supplement if you have enough iodine in your daily diet. Seafood, dark green vegetables, and sea salt all contain natural iodine.
The common varieties found on your kitchen countertop are typically granulated, kosher, large grained crystals or fine sea salt.
The common granulated type is ultra processed, usually with the addition of iodine (the package will indicate whether it is iodized or not). It is very versatile and can be used in any recipe.
Large grained crystals make up the coarse variety. These salts are commonly found in grinders,which make it easier for you to enjoy them with just about any meal. The larger sized crystals make it easy to grind. Grind this variety over meat, fish, stews, and soups while cooking, or as a finishing condiment when a higher grade salt is not required.
Kosher salt does not come from existing bodies of sea water, but rather, it is mined from dried up sea beds and oceans. It does not contain any additives or iodine.
The flake variety is not refined, but rather it is left to dry out on its own, and this type is known as the purest variety available.
Foodal recommends David’s Kosher Salt.
The large granules make it easy for you to grab a pinch to sprinkle onto your latest dish. The flakes dissolve easily and are milder than processed table salt. This variety is commonly found on the rims of margarita glasses and atop pretzels.
Finishing or condiment salts are comprised of a number of premier specialty varieties. They have personality. These examples are typically harvested by hand and are revered for their one of a kind textures.
This variety may be crunchy or soft, colorful or dull. The taste may be stronger than expected. They hit your taste buds with a burst of flavor.
Enhancing the punch of just about any dish from sweet to savory, these finishing varieties make the perfect garnish. The addition of this condiment adds a little something special to your finished dish.
Sea salt is an unrefined type that’s harvested directly from seawater, using large clay trays. Then the sun and wind evaporates the water naturally, leaving sodium and other elements behind.
Since it is unrefined, it contains trace minerals such as magnesium, iron, calcium, manganese, potassium, iodine, and zinc. This type is harvested from the Mediterranean Sea, the North Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean (typically from France).
Salts formed when the oceans receded thousands of years ago are available in rock or coarse forms. Due to their size and the hardness of the crystals, they do not dissolve easily and may not be suitable for all of your recipes. These coarser varieties are better suited for dishes that have longer cook times, to allow them to dissolve completely.
Foodal recommends Maldon Flaked Sea Salt. This is a family-run business whose traditional method of processing has remained largely unchanged since 1882.
Flake sea salt is light and delicate. It is naturally evaporated, producing a brine. This brine is then slowly heated until pyramid-shaped crystals form. This type is available in different flake sizes, from large to paper thin.
Flavored and smoked sea salts add a bit of excitement to your favorite dishes. These varieties add a unique twist to a wide assortment of recipes, including grilled and roasted meats, fish, and vegetables. They are available in fine, coarse, and flake grain sizes. Fine sea salt crystals dissolve easily, which makes them the perfect choice for all of your baking needs.
Foodal recommends Pepper Creek Farm’s Applewood Smoked Sea Salt to add an a bit of bite to your recipes.
French Sea Salts
French sea salts are harvested by hand from the Atlantic, using traditional Celtic methods. These crystals are carefully raked from the surface of salt evaporation ponds. Wooden tools are employed for this task, in order to preserve purity and produce a moist crystalline texture.
Since these varieties are not refined, they contain many of the naturally occurring trace minerals found in seawater. French sea salts add a delicious crunch to your favorite salads, cooked vegetables, and grilled meats and fish.
Fleur De Sel
Fleur de sel is French for “flower of salt” and is highly regarded by chefs and foodies. This variety is considered to be a premier finishing salt. It is often referred to as the “caviar of salts” by chefs throughout the world. This variety is available as a coarse grain (perfect for finishing), stone ground fine (table salt), and extra fine grain (popcorn salt).
Le Saunier De Camargue’s Fleur De Sel Sea Salt is a very popular variety.
Sel Gris/Grey Celtic
Sel Gris lies somewhere between a basic kitchen and a condiment salt, and the name is derived from its color. These unrefined moist crystals are found in France’s Brittany region, located on the Atlantic coast.
The light grey to purplish tint is attributed to the minerals absorbed from the clay found in the ponds where it is harvested. This variety is available as a coarse grain (perfect for finishing), stone ground fine (for the table), and extra fine grain (great for popcorn).
This “Sel Gris De Guérande” French Sea Salt has high marks on Amazon and comes in bags of various sizes.
Other Sea Salts
Alaea sea salt is a traditional table variety from Hawaii. It is used for seasoning and preserving. To enrich the substance with iron oxide, Alaea or volcanic baked red clay, is added.
Foodal recommends this Hawaiian Red Alaea Sea Salt available from Amazon in fine or coarse, and in various sized packages.
The clay gives this variety an earthy flavor. It is used in traditional Hawaiian dishes, as well as on prime rib or pork dishes and it is available in fine or coarse grain.
Black Hawaiian sea salt contains active charcoal, and is know for its detoxifying effects. It is great on salads, sushi, steak, chicken, and tofu. The pop of black color is stunning and will dress up any dish. This variety is available in coarse grain, to be used tableside and in grinders.
Italian sea salt is harvested off the coast of Sicily in the Mediterranean. This unrefined white variety is rich in potassium and magnesium. Once the water in the salt pans has evaporated, the rough crystals are crushed, ground, and packaged.
Rich in flavor, this variety will enhance any food without being overly strong or salty. Finely ground Italian crystals can be added to virtually any dish, or the coarse variety works well as a fishing salt on roasts or in sauces.ALESSI Fine Mediterranean Sea Salt
Indian Black/Kala Namak
Indian black salt, also known as Kala Namak, is an unrefined mineral variety. The color is a pink-grey to pure pink, as opposed to black.
The strong sulfuric flavor and aroma is reminiscent of boiled eggs. Kala Namak is a common ingredient in authentic Indian dishes. This type can also be added to tofu scrambles, to add an egg flavor. It is available in fine or coarse grained varieties.
Pride Of India’ Kala Namak available on Amazon.
Himalayan Salt Blocks
Himalayan salt blocks are one of the latest kitchen trends. These slabs are cut from ancient deposits found in Pakistan. These blocks not only conduct heat throughout, but they enhance the flavor of your favorite foods. Simply place the block on top of your grill or stovetop to cook beef, chicken, fish, or vegetables.
Chill to serve salads or sushi. Freeze and top with ice cream, caramel, or chocolate for an unexpectedly delicious dessert. These blocks are great for cooking or serving. In fact, you can purchase blocks shaped into bowls or cups for the perfect presentation.
Pink Himalayan features hues of red, pink and white, which is indicative of the mineral content, particularly iron oxide. With a crisp taste and less of a bite, it is the perfect finish to any soup, salad, or entree.
Many of these blocks have not been allowed to fully cure after being mined, and they contain too much water. That is why we would recommend purchasing a premium brand such as the Sur La Table Himalayan Block pictured above. Too much heat can cause the cheaper ones to crack – or even worse – fly apart when heat is applied, since the trapped moisture needs to escape.
These blocks are naturally antimicrobial, just be sure to clean with a damp sponge or scrub brush once cooled. Allow the block to dry completely between uses.
There you have it. Everything you ever wanted (or needed) to know about salt. Now go out and use some of those flavors (sparingly) in your cooking today!
Looking for a place to keep all of that salt? Check out Foodal’s review of the best spice racks here.
What’s your favorite type of salt to season with? What do you use it for? Let us know in the comments!
About Jennifer Swartvagher
Jennifer is an experienced journalist and author. Her work has been featured on TODAY Parents, The New York Times Blog, BlogHer, Scary Mommy, and scores of other parenting and cooking publications.