Types of Salt Every Cook Should Know

Salt is the most essential and versatile product to have stocked in your pantry. This ingredient is necessary for cooking, baking, and seasoning. Let’s learn about the different types of salt, their uses, and taste profiles. 

Five spoons lying on a wooden table with different types of salt in each

Salt is an integral ingredient to always have on hand when cooking and baking. Not only is salt one of the basic taste receptors, but its a nutrient needed to help maintain proper body function. From a culinary standpoint, it’s in nearly all savory and sweet recipes. It can help enhance flavors, and change the molecular structures of proteins and plant cells to improve taste and textures of foods.

Different types of salt are naturally sourced from either evaporated seawater or from rock deposits. The location and way that the salt is processed affect the shape, size, and flavor. In recent years, the types of salt offered to home cooks has exploded, which is good news for us but can also be confusing on how to choose.

Several packages of salt on a table from different brand companies

Types of Salt

No matter where the variety of salt is sourced from, the common thread is that salt is made of sodium chloride and shaped like a cube in crystal form. What’s even more interesting, the structure (size and shape) and mineral content in the salt affect its taste and how it interacts with other ingredients.

It’s good to be aware that amongst different types of salt, measuring the same amount of volume does not always give the same salt content. For example, you would need twice the amount of kosher salt to have the same sodium level as table salt. Also, the salt content can vary between brands. The best thing to do is start off with less when you’re seasoning, then build up until you reach the desired level.

Table Salt

Table Salt in a small jar

Also known as common salt, is finely ground square-shaped crystals sourced from underground salt deposits and is vacuum evaporated. This is the standard, all-purpose salt you’ll find on, well, your table. It may include anti-caking agents to make it easy to pour. Iodized means iodine has been added, a catch-all to prevent iodine deficiency, however, it imparts a slightly chemical flavor.

  • Taste: A clean salt taste that dissolves quickly. Iodized salt has a slightly chemical aftertaste.
  • Best Used For: Cooking and baking.

Kosher Salt

Kosher salt in a small jar

Flakier and coarser than table salt, its larger shape comes from raking during evaporation. The name is such not because it’s actually kosher, but because it’s used during the koshering meat process. Typically contains no additives but check labels. Particle size and salt amounts vary between brands so adjustments should be made.

Note that, 1 teaspoon table salt = 1 1/2 teaspoon Morton kosher salt = 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt.

  • Taste: A clean flavor that takes longer to dissolve.
  • Best Used For: Salting meats because it clings well to the surface and is easy to distribute. Sprinkle on roasted vegetables and general seasoning at the end of cooking for a pop of texture and flavor.

Sea Salt

Sea salt in a small jar

Sea salt is evaporated from salt water, so it’s generally coarse, irregularly shaped, unrefined and can vary in color. Since it’s minimally processed, it has other trace minerals like calcium, magnesium, and copper, giving it a more complex flavor profile. There is a range of pricing depending on how expensive the process and quality.

  • Taste: Similar to table salt with some complex mineral notes.
  • Best Used For: More affordable versions for salting meats, seafood, and vegetables. It has a more crunchy texture. Popular to use in Whole30 and Paleo diets.

Himalayan Pink Salt

Himalayan Pink Salt in a small jar

The purest form of salt in the world and it’s harvested in the Himalayan Mountains of Pakistan. It has distinct a salmon-colored hue and very large irregularly shaped particles. It’s rich in minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, and iron. High heat tolerance since it’s dried at 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Often used from a health perspective to create electrolyte balance and increase hydration in the body among other benefits.

  • Taste: High mineral flavor with complex notes.
  • Best Used For: Seasoning meats, soups, salads, vegetables. May need to add the salt crystals to a grinder or buy the finer size, use small amounts and gradually adding more as needed.

Celtic Sea Salt

Celtic Sea Salt in a small jar

Known as grey salt or sel gris, in French, Celtic sea salt is harvested from tidal pools in France. The salt is whole raw crystals filled with minerals like magnesium, calcium and potassium, and an alkaline pH that helps with sodium assimilation in the body.

  • Taste: It has a briny mineral taste and a chunky texture.
  • Best Used For: Seasoning meats and fish, pickling, add to a grinder.

Fleur de sel

Fleur de sel on a table

Harvested from French tidal pools, but in the far northeast of the country, in Brittany. This is a specialty, paper-thin salt that’s delicately taken from the surface of the water from a short-lived crystallization period. It has a blue-grey tinge and retains moisture well.

  • Taste: Light briny flavor, delicate and crunchy texture.
  • Best Used For: A good finishing salt for candy, vegetables, meat, seafood, grilled foods, salads, and baked goods.

Flake Sea Salt

Flake Sea Salt spread across a wooden table

Flake sea salt is hand-harvested from saltwater and is irregularly shaped, often with unique large flat, square crystals that are beautiful in appearance. Low in mineral content.

  • Taste: Clean but intense salt flavor, with a soft, crunchy texture.
  • Best Used For: A finishing salt to add texture and enhance the flavors of food. Often used in baking and confectionery for garnishing sweets.

Black and Red Hawaiian Salt

Two jars of Black and Red Hawaiian Salt

Both black and pink Hawaiian salts are volcanic salts with mythical properties back home on the Pacific islands. Red sea salts may contain volcanic clay, natural trace minerals and electrolytes giving the earth tone colors. Black lava sea salt contains activated charcoal for the dark color.

  • Taste: Briny flavor, they are both coarse-grained and chunky and will add a sophisticated flavor burst.
  • Best Used For: Seasoning salads, vegetables, barbecued meats, fish, and poultry.

Nutritional aspects

There are low-salt diets and high-salt diets alike–it’s best to ask your doctor which may suit you best if any. In general, a healthy amount of salt usage is considered to be safe, especially during the home cooking process.

Sticking to whole foods and cooking at home is an excellent way to reduce salt intake and to ensure that whatever you do consume is well within the range of healthy consumption. Salt is OK in special diets like Whole30, too, even the iodized table kind. Overall, it’s recommended that adults ingest no more than 2,300 mg per day – that’s equal to about one teaspoon of salt.

Salt conversions

In small amounts, most salts have the same impact and don’t need to be converted between recipes. I like this handy chart, provided by a salt company we’ve all heard of, but it works nonetheless. The higher you go on the chart, the more you may have to tweak between different kinds of salts.

In general, coarser salts take up more space as more is added, so you may get less bang for your buck when considering the surface area.

How to use salt

  • Contamination: I store my kosher salt in a small wooden box for general cooking because I use it so frequently. However, if working with raw meat, add a small amount of salt to a separate bowl so that the stock of salt does not get contaminated. Keep covered when not in use to prevent moisture pick up.
  • Amounts: Recipes provide a starting amount, usually leaving some room for adding more salt to taste. Cooking and baking salts typically use table salt, kosher salt or sea salt. Try to follow direction guidelines for type, however, make adjustments for quantity if you modify. It’s better to start with less because more can always be added.
  • Applying: When adding salt to food before cooking, it’s best to sprinkle it on at about 12-inches above the ingredient. This technique helps to evenly distribute the salt and prevent pockets that become over salted.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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10 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Joe Macaluso says

    Jessica, what a great blog. I recently started to follow you and I am very impressed with your recipes and your science contributions. Keep up the good work.

  2. Joseph says

    Nice article but the comments on any of these being rich in minerals is misleading. The quantities used for cooking will only add a trace amount of minerals bordering on insignificant from a nutritional perspective.

    Hope this helps,

    Joe

  3. Marilyn says

    I subscribed 5 days ago and love your wonderful tips. I was amazed about the history of salt. Going to change my salt in my pantry cupboard. About to go onto your next tip.

  4. Hans says

    Great article. In this context it might be useful / interesting to mention when and how to use other salting options, typically asian, such as miso, fish sauce and sow sauce, and if under certain circumstances certain dishes might benefit from using more than one salting option … ???

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Great suggestion, Hans! I’ll keep your suggestion in mind for future articles. I typically always use a combination, especially since asian ingredients have differing flavor profiles compared to just salt alone.

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