Know Your Salt Varieties
Navigate the ever-growing selection of gourmet salts and salt blends in the market with a little help from the following guide to some of the most popular varieties.
Table salt is the most common salt variety, and since it is a practical choice for baking and cooking, you'll find it in just about every household. Table salt comes from salt mines, has very fine crystals and commonly has iodine added for nutritional value (iodized).
Kosher salt is the top choice of professional chefs because of its coarse grain. It is easy to grab a “pinch” and control the quantity when adjusting the seasoning in a dish. Like table salt, it comes from mines and is called kosher, not because it conforms to the dietary laws of the Jewish religion (just about all salt is kosher), but because its texture is optimal for the “koshering” of meat.
Both table and kosher salt are composed of pure sodium chloride with the controlled addition of an anti-caking substance and possibly iodine as mentioned earlier.
Varieties Of Sea Salt
Sea salts differ from table and kosher salt in that they are obtained from evaporated seawater. In addition to sodium chloride, sea salts contain the various trace elements that are inherent to the seawater in the area they come from.
Sea salts are often used as what we call finishing salts because they are flaky, dissolve easily and adhere well to most foods. It's also interesting to note that different varieties have subtle differences in flavor. Once you taste a few varieties, you may decide to keep several on hand for different applications.
The best known of all sea salts are sel gris and fleur de sel, both from the Brittany region of France.
- Sel Gris: Sel Gris is composed of heavier crystals that have acquired the gray hue of the earth at the bottom of the salt ponds where the evaporation process takes place.
- Fleur de Sel: The lighter crystals that float to the surface of the salt ponds are skimmed off and dubbed Fleur de Sel.
Other popular varieties of sea salt include:
- Hawaiian “Red” Sea Salt: A mellow-tasting salt that contains natural trace minerals and electrolytes from a type of Hawaiian clay called Alaea.
- Maldon Sea Salt: A mild salt with a distinctive texture, Maldon sea salt has been produced on the east coast of England for centuries.
- Trapani Sea Salt: A balanced salt with a relatively low percentage of sodium chloride, Trapani sea salt is harvested from the Mediterranean on the northwest coast of Sicily.
Himalayan Pink Salt
Himalayan Pink Salt is in a class by itself. Painstakingly mined from deep within the Himalayan Mountains, these salt deposits were created hundreds of millions of years ago during the formation of the mountain range.
Himalayan Pink Salt is among the purest and healthiest of salts, containing dozens of trace elements and minerals including magnesium, calcium, potassium, copper and the iron that passes on its delicate pink hue. In addition to its beautiful appearance and notable health benefits, Himalayan salt has a distinctive subtle flavor that makes it a winning choice as a finishing salt.
In Conclusion –
This article only scratches the surface when it comes to understanding the myriad of salts available to today's chefs. Don't be intimidated by the multitude of options – take the opportunity to experiment with different varieties of salt and see how they influence the flavors and subtle nuances in your cooking.