Domestic Details: Everything You Need To Know About Salt
Everyone knows that salt is the best.
If you eat food, I’m assuming that you have some sort of salt in your kitchen. Good for you! Salt is easily the most ubiquitous and versatile ingredient in the universe, since it’s used for everything from curing and pickling to flavoring sauces and dressing up a cocktail glass. Unless you happen to be on a low-sodium diet, there’s a good chance you sprinkle a little bit of salt on most of the things you put in your mouth.
While salt seems like a pretty straightforward substance, there are actually several varieties of the stuff. It can be coarse or fine, harvested from mines or distilled from sea water, iodized or additive-free. There are also infinity types of seasoned salt (wassup, bacon salt?), and it even comes in a rainbow of trendy colors. Like I said, salt is the best.
While I find the myriad incarnations of salt to be borderline thrilling, I worry that some of you may be slightly overwhelmed by the idea of using anything other than the giant canister of Morton’s you’ve had in your cupboard since 2010. This concern was confirmed by a recent panicked (and slightly accusatory) text from a bestie that said, “What’s the deal with your kosher salt obsession? All of your recipes say that I need it. Do I actually need it? I don’t even know what it is…”
In the hope of clearing up some confusion on the salt front, I’ve compiled a handy list of the most popular cooking salts that you should be familiar with. Relax, you don’t “actually need” all of them.
Six Salts Every Cook Should Know:
1. Table Salt: You probably have table salt in your kitchen and in your salt shakers (if you happen to own any). It has very fine crystals that dissolve quickly, and a relatively sharp taste. In the 1920s, iodine began being added to salt to prevent goiters (which are scary and gross), and most table salt sold in the US is iodized. Because its particles are so tiny, a single teaspoon of table salt contains more salt than a tablespoon of kosher or sea salt. So, when a recipe calls for a tablespoon of kosher salt, please do NOT swap in an equal amount of table salt. Big mistake.
2. Sea Salt. Sea salt is distilled from salt water (aka the sea, duh), usually with little processing. This means that the salt will contain different trace minerals and elements from its water source, which can add flavor and color to the salt. Sea salt may be coarse or finely ground, but since it’s slightly more expensive than table salt, you’ll only need to buy the coarse version for the textural element. Sometimes you just want the added crunch of a larger salt crystal (like on a salted caramel cookie or something), and you ain’t gonna get that from table salt. Don’t worry, your average sea salt is still pretty cheap, and you’re guaranteed to find it at any grocery store. If you can spare an extra couple of bucks, shell out for some Maldon sea salt which has a delightfully bright, yet still subtle flavor.
3. Kosher Salt. KOSHER SALT IS EVERYTHING. Sorry for yelling, but kosher salt is actually the greatest thing ever. It’s the little black dress of the salt world, since it pretty much works for every culinary occasion. Like sea salt, it doesn’t contain any additives, but it has larger, more irregular flakes that dissolve quickly. Its craggy flakes are easy to pinch, making it easier to control the quantity that you add to your dishes. (This is good news for those of you who have over-salting accidents on the reg.) You can also find kosher salt in a fine grain, which is great for baking, as it can be more evenly distributed than a coarse flake. Random knowledge bomb: Kosher salt is not necessarily kosher. It gets its name because the flakes adhere easily to the surface of meat, helping to draw out the most blood possible during the kosher butchering process. Eek.
4. Himalayan Salt. This very pure form of salt is mined by hand from ancient sea salt deposits in Pakistan’s Khewra Salt Mine (fun fact!). Some people argue that the high mineral content of Himalayan salt gives it a number of health benefits over other salts, but there’s no real proof of this, and it doesn’t taste much different/better than standard sea salt. Honestly, the selling point of Himalayan salt is its pretty pink color, which looks quite fetching on the rim of cocktail glasses and sprinkled on very light or very dark colored foods where the crystals can be seen. It’s also trendy to serve both hot and cold dishes on slabs of Himalayan salt, which can hold a specific temperature for long periods of time. Do with that what you will.
5. Seasoned Salt. When it comes to seasoned salt, there are endless possibilities. Many gourmet markets sell obscenely overpriced sea salt blended with thinks like lemon zest, herbs, garlic, onion, truffles etc, and you’ll find salt blends such as Krazy Jane’s or Lawry’s in the spice aisle at most grocery stores. These seasoned salts are fun to sex up a boring dish, especially when you’re feeling lazy, but they’re not spice cabinet essentials.
6. Fleur de Sel. This is the crème de la crème of salts, people. Hand-harvested from coastal salt ponds in France (and a handful of other swanky European countries), this “flower of salt” has fine, light crystals with a delicate flavor and a high concentration of minerals. It dissolves gently and enhances the flavor of any food, making it the perfect finishing touch on everything from filet mignon to avocado toast. Just a heads up, because of its awesomeness, fleur de sel will cost you a few extra dolla dolla bills, y’all. Do you need it? Obviously not, but I’m all for investing in this special occasion salt for when you’re feeling fancy.
NOTE: Please don’t cook with Epsom salt or bath salts. This may be obvious, but I wouldn’t put it past some of you.
Domesticity is all in the details, friends. Bow to your sensei.
*If you have a burning question that you’d like featured on a future edition of Domestic Details, don’t hesitate to contact me or leave it in the comments. Help me help you.
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The best salt I’ve ever tasted is Murray River salt from Australia. It’s pink like Himalayan salt and has just the best texture and flavor. No hint of bitterness at all. I would take the pepsi challenge with that french stuff.
Thanks for the rec, David. I’m going to hunt down some of the Murray River goodness ASAP.
If you haven’t already you should read Salt by Mark Kurlanksky…it’s an in depth history on salt and is really fascinating to see how important of a commodity it was back in the day. Great post!
Happy Valley Chow
Thanks, Eric! I haven’t heard of Kurlanksky’s book, but I’m excited to check it out. Have you heard of Salted by Mark Bittman? It’s also a pretty cool read on the same subject.