Cooking 101- Salt Primer
Salt seems like such a simple, unassuming ingredient that it’s easy to take it for granted. Most of us just instinctively pick up the iodized salt in the blue cylinder without even giving it a second though. Salt is salt, right? Not these days. One of the markets I go to has 20+ salts in the bulk section. Then, there are cooking shows where one chef asserts that you must only use kosher salt, another says only sea salt, and another talks about finishing a dish with flake salt. Considering the great big wide world of salt, I thought a primer on different types of salt might be in order.
- The standard grocery store salt has small grains and generally comes from underground mines. It starts out in rock form and is ground into the form we use in our kitchens. An anti-caking agent is added so that it doesn’t clump. You can buy iodized salt, or just plain old salt. Iodized salt helps prevent goiter and mental retardation issues. Seafood and seaweed, some manufactured bread products and many dairy products are high in iodine, so if you eat quite a bit of that, you may not need iodized salt.
- Plain sea salt– This type of salt is obtained through direct mining or from sea water that has been evaporated with the salt left behind. Many people think this salt tastes better, and that it has a better texture than standard table salt. It generally does not contain anti-caking agents, so this may be where the taste difference comes from. You can buy it in iodized or non-iodized form. It costs about twice as much as standard table salt. I use Hain iodized sea salt next to my stove and in my salt shaker.
- Kosher salt– It isn’t named kosher salt because it is kosher. Pretty much every salt is kosher. It was originally called koshering salt because it is used in making meats kosher by drawing out some of the blood in the meat. The difference between kosher salt and general table salt is that kosher salt has no additives and has a different texture.It. It has larger crystals. Many cooks like it because it is easier to grab with your fingers to add to whatever dish you are cooking. With kosher salt, you need more of it to get the same level of saltiness you would get with table salt. I recommend using a ratio of 1:1.5 salt to kosher salt. That would be 1 1/2 tsp./Tbsp. of kosher salt for every tsp/Tbsp.of standard table salt.
- Pickling/canning salt- This salt is free of any additives or impurities that could turn the brine dark. In addition, you can use it as you would use regular salt in baking, cooking, and in your salt shaker. This is also the type of salt you would use when making your own neti pot solution. It usually comes in a box and is very inexpensive.
- Rock salt– Many of use it for de-icing our sidewalks or to make ice cream. But, you can eat this salt as you would any other salt. You can use it in a salt grinder to make your own freshly ground salt. The great thing about a salt grinder is that you can adjust the grind to your own texture preference.
- Flake Salt– Flake salt has a texture similar to small snow flakes and generally comes from the sea. It gives a very light crunch to whatever you sprinkle it on. It is generally used as a finishing salt. I like to sprinkle it on home roasted nut mixes, homemade potato chips, and fresh summer tomatoes. The most common brand is called Maldon. It is very expensive.I purchased a box for around $7.00. I use it sparingly of course.
- Finishing Salts– These are the fancy gourmet salts you tend to see in upscale grocery stores. You use them after cooking to finish off a dish. These salts are usually flaky and have a crunchier texture. They also almost always are harvested from the sea and some are flavored afterward. Common versions are smoked sea salt, fleur de sel, sel gris (grey salt), and infused (flavored) salts such as black truffle salt, and saffron salt. You can also buy finishing salts in rock form to put in your salt grinder and grind to your own preference.