Salt is the most essential and versatile product to have stocked up in the kitchen. Necessary for cooking, baking, and seasoning. Let’s learn about the different types of salt, their uses, and taste profiles.
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 is 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 seawater that has been evaporated, or from rock deposits. The location and way that the salt is processed effects the shape, size, and flavor. In recent years, the types of salt offered to home cooks have exploded, which is good news for us but can also be confusing on how to choose.
Learn the basics of the using salt in a food, the most common types, their taste, and how to use them in everyday cooking.
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 affects 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 salt when you’re seasoning, then build up until you reach the desired level.
Also known as common salt, is finely ground square-shaped crystals that is 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, imparts a slight chemical flavor.
- Taste: A clean salt taste that dissolved quickly. Iodized salt has a slight chemical aftertaste.
- Best Used For: Cooking and baking.
Flakier and coarser than table salt, it’s larger shape comes from raking during evaporation. Its 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. I use Morton kosher salt for my recipes.
Note that, 1 teaspoon table salt = 1 1/2 teaspoon Morton kosher salt = 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt (Reference: Cook’s Illustrated)
- Taste: A clean salt flavor that takes longer to dissolve.
- Best Used For: Salting meats because it clings well to the surface and easy to distribute. Sprinkle on roasted vegetables and general seasoning at the end of cooking for a pop of texture and flavor.
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. Has a more crunchy texture. Popular salt to use in Whole30 and Paleo diets.
Himalayan Pink Salt
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. Salt boards, bowls and mortal and pestles have been used to prep and cook in due to its heat stability and strength. 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. Has been used to make a sports drink or rehydration beverage called a “Himalayan salt sole.”
Celtic Sea Salt
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
Harvested from French tidal pools, but in the far northeast of the country, in Brittany. This is a specialty, paper-thin salt that is 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 is hand harvested from salt water 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 confectionary for garnishing sweets.
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 of Salt
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!
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 salt 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 salt 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.