Salt is a naturally occurring compound that is extracted from seawater, brine springs, or mined as “rock salt” (Olver, 1999). Salt greatly improves the taste and quality of foods while also providing vital biological necessities (Olver, 1999). When it comes to seasoning, the primary element that brings flavors together is indeed salt. As Samin Nosrat puts it in her book Salt Fat Acid Heat, “Salt has a greater impact on flavor than any other ingredient” (Nosrat, 2017). As for how much salt to use? My mother always taught me to taste as I go. Taste, then add salt; taste it again; add a little bit at a time; taste further; sit and ponder if the flavor makes your tongue dance and sing.
Salt has to be layered as we cook, and we all have to keep in mind that “conditions in the kitchen are rarely, if ever, identical” (Nosrat, 2017). There are all different kinds of salts in the world with professional chefs and cooks often getting into heated and passionate arguments about which one is the best, but most cooks and bakers will at least refrain from using iodized salt since the taste it leaves behind is somewhat metallic. Opt for Kosher salt or sea salt for a nice clean flavor.
In my own house, I tend to use finely ground Pink Himalayan salt; as a personal preference, it tastes less abrasive to me and I can use a lot less of it to get the desired flavor in my food. Most of my friends and family use good old fashioned Morton Salt, but some of them will opt for specialty salt blends such as truffle salt on special occasions. But, as always, use the salt you like the best and the salt most available to you; your opinion is more important because you will be the one eating it.
As another side note, salt is not just the salt that comes out of a bottle. Salt is also in some ingredients such as soy sauce, parmesan, anchovies, and capers (just to name a few). Depending on what you are making, increasing the amount of salt by adding more of a salty ingredient will often do the trick since it will add additional layers of flavor that salt alone can’t produce.
There are different varieties of salts harvested from around the world, but here are some:
Varieties of Salt
Table salt is granular salt used in salt shakers. Its granules are typically small and dense, resulting in a very salty taste (Nosrat, 2017). Sometimes iodine and anti-caking agents are added to it. It can, however, have a metallic flavor if used to season your dish. Since most table salt contains iodine, avoid using it when making bread; iodized salt can impede yeast fermentation, preventing bread from rising (Forkish, 2012).
Kosher salt is an inexpensive salt popular for everyday cooking. It is traditionally used in koshering, the Jewish process of removing blood from meat (Nosrat, 2017). Kosher salt does not have any additives such as anti-caking agents or iodine, so the taste is pure (Nosrat, 2017). Kosher salt has been popularized by two major brands: Morton and Diamond Crystal. The two salts, however, cannot be used interchangeably since the Morton brand is denser and saltier than the Diamond Crystal brand, which is lighter, dissolves faster, and is more forgiving if you happen to over-season your dish (Nosrat, 2017). Since Kosher salt is coarse, it does take longer to dissolve than sea salt if using it to bake bread (Forkish, 2012). Finer salts will dissolve faster in dough.
Pickling salt is a special salt used for canning and… pickling! Pickling salt contains neither iodine nor anti-caking agents, which can turn pickles dark and make the pickling solution cloudy and unattractive (Alden, 2005).
Most sea salt is created by “rapidly boiling down ocean water in a closed vacuum” (Nosrat, 2017). Refined sea salt is excellent for everyday cooking and can be used for layering flavors. Specialty or natural varieties such as fleuir de sel or lava salt have different processing methods that affect taste and texture. As a result, they are better suited for finishing foods as a garnish to enhance the flavor or texture of a dish (Nosrat, 2017).
Black & Red Sea Salt
Some sea salts from Hawaii have baked black or red clays added to them for gorgeous color and briny, earth-like flavors (Wolke, 2010). It can be strong and abrasive; however, it is very attractive with its onyx-like crystals. If you would like to try this salt, be mindful that some black salts are marketed as “Black Lava Salt,” which is conventional sea salt with activated charcoal added to it for its color. Make sure your salt is coming from a reputable source. Otherwise, enjoy it as a finishing salt.
Fleur de Sel
Fleur de sel, literally “salt flower”, is a special sea salt that is harvested from the surface layer of salt marshes in the Guérande area in Brittany (Sous Chef, 2020; Green, 2020). It is harvested by hand using a tool called a “lousse”, and does not undergo any refining or processing (Sous Chef, 2020; Green, 2020). As a result, it maintains is unique flavors and texture properties. Fleur de sel has a unique crystalline structure reminiscent of snowflakes. Since it is quite expensive to produce, it is best used as a garnish for added flavor and texture.
Maldon salt is a coarse and crunchy sea salt that is harvested in Maldon, a town in the Blackwater estuary in Essex, England. The technique involves evaporating the local sea water until all that remains are large, pointed, and crunchy flakes; this method has largely stayed the same since the Roman occupation of England (Fine Dining Lovers, 2021). Like fleur de sel, Maldon salt adds texture and flavor to the finishing stage of a dish. It is better suited for finishing dishes as opposed to seasoning dishes.
Pink Himalayan Salt
Pink Himalayan Salt is a beautiful rose colored salt that comes from the Salt Range in Pakistan. Trace elements such as iron, calcium, magnesium, sulfate, and potassium are present, but are safe for human consumption (Sharif et al, 2007). Because important minerals are present in this salt, resulting in its attractive color, it has led to assumptions of enhanced health benefits such as vascular health, improved circulation, detox capabilities, and reduced signs of aging. These claims, however, are grossly overblown since there is currently no evidence to support them (Hall, 2017). Use this salt purely for its taste and beauty.
Salt blends are salts infused with other herbs and spices such as garlic, peppers, seeds, or even sumac. They can be homemade or found in specialty shops and markets. Some examples include truffle blends, lime blends, espresso blends, porcini mushroom blends, and garlic blends (J. H. Lüttge GmbH).
The sea salt underneath the Fleur de sel is harvested as “sel gris” (Sous Chef, 2020). Sel gris , literally “gray salt”, is a coarse salt that is silvery-grey in color. It is collected at the bottom of the same salt pan used to harvest fleur de sel. It retains much of its moisture and mineral content, but unlike fleur de sel, can be used as both a finishing salt and a seasoning salt.
Smoked salt consists of sea salt or rock salt that has been smoked over wood fire (BBC Good Food). The salt contains the flavors of the wood and adds complexity when used to season dishes. It is an excellent seasoning alternative when you are unable to barbeque or smoke foods from home. Some examples include hardwood smoked salt, fruitwood smoked salt, alderwood smoked salt, chardonnay barrelwood smoked salt, hickory wood smoked salt, mesquite wood smoked salt, and applewood smoked salt ( J. H. Lüttge GmbH).
Samin Nosrat puts it best: “Even when following a recipe, if you realize that a dish needs more salt, take a moment to think about where that salt should come from” (Nosrat, 2017). Ingredients such as bacon, olives, salted butter, and cured meats already contain salt, but they also contain other flavor components such as fats and acids, which can enhance the flavors of your dish. Taste your food as you go and see if you may require more salty ingredients as opposed to salt by itself. Some examples include: anchovies, bacon, capers, cheese, cured meats, fish sauce, miso paste, mustard, olives, parmesan, salted butter, sardines, and soy sauce (Nosrat, 2017).
Alden, L., (2005). Cook’s Thesaurus: Salt. Retrieved from http://www.foodsubs.com/Salt.html#pickling%20salt
The Expert’s Guide to using Fleur De Sel, instead of regular salt, (2020). Sous Chef. Retrieved from https://www.souschef.co.uk/blogs/the-bureau-of-taste/fleur-de-sel-a-hand-picked-salt
Forkish, K., (2012). Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread andPizza. Ten Speed Press.
Green, D., (2020). Fleur de Sel. Cook’s Info. Retrieved from https://www.cooksinfo.com/fleur-de-sel
Hall, H., (2017). Pink Himalayan Sea Salt: An Update. Science-Based Medicine. Retrieved from https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/pink-himalayan-sea-salt-an-update/
Maldon Sea Salt Flakes: How to Use Them While Cooking, (2021). Fine Dining Lovers. Retrieved from https://www.finedininglovers.com/article/maldon-sea-salt
Nosrat, S., (2017). Salt Fat Acid Heat. Simon & Schuster.
Olver, Lynne, (1999). Salt. The Food Timeline. Retrieved from https://www.foodtimeline.org/foodfaq2.html#salt
Sharif, Q. M., Hussain, M., and Hussain M. T., (2007). Chemical Evaluation of Major Salt Deposits of Pakistan. Journal of the Chemical Society of Pakistan. 29(6), 569-574.
Smoked Salt. BBC Good Food. Retrieved from https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/glossary/smoked-salt-glossary
Smoked Sea Salts. J. H. Lüttge GmbH. Retrieved 2021 from http://www.proderna.de/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/SMOKED_SEA_SALTS_SEA_SALT_BLENDS.pdf
Wolke, L. R. (2010). What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained. W. W. Norton.
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