The different types of salt and how to cook with them

The different types of salt and how to cook with them

When to use kosher, flake, pink, black, or table salt to season food.

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It used to be that salt was just…salt. It was finely ground and available at the grocery store in a round cardboard canister with a handy metal spout. But these days, our salt options have vastly expanded; you can buy kosher salt, sea salt, flake salt, pink salt, or smoked salt or other flavored salt. You can find whole sections of salt in specialty food stores, and even your local grocery store now sells various types of salt. While this variety is great for cooks, it can be confusing when trying to choose the right salt for the job. Here are some of the salts you’re likely to find when shopping and how to use them.

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Table salt

This is the OG salt; found in salt shakers everywhere. Iodide has often been added for public health reasons (in the 1920s, table salt was iodized to help prevent widespread thyroid and goiter problems). With all of the fancier chef-backed salts available, table salt can seem outdated for cooking. But it’s still useful for baking, where the fine grains are evenly distributed with flour and other dry ingredients and dissolve easily into wet ingredients. You’ll also want to have table salt on hand when cooking with old cookbooks. If the recipe does not indicate the type of salt to use, check the publication date. Recipes written before the year 2000 are likely to have been developed and tested with table salt. If you’re using kosher salt, you’ll likely need to use a little more salt to get the desired effect, so taste and add more as needed.

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kosher salt

If you only have one salt in your kitchen, this is the one to buy. The salt of choice for most professional cooks and home cooks alike, kosher salt has larger flakes and a less salty taste than table salt. It has no iodide or other additives. Originally created to aid in the process of koshering meat, kosher salt is most widely available under two brands: Morton’s and Diamond Crystal. Morton’s is a bit denser; the flakes are smaller and saltier than Diamond Crystal, which has a lighter, more crumbly texture. Large crystals make it easy to portion when seasoning by hand and are visible so you can determine how evenly and effectively dishes have been salted.

Unless a brand is specified in a recipe, assume it calls for Diamond Crystal salt; it’s much easier to add extra seasonings to a dish than it is to try to save something that’s too salty. If using Morton’s, cut the amount of salt used in half to start with, then taste before adding more. Keep in mind that because the diamond crystal flakes are a bit smaller and lighter than Morton’s, they will dissolve faster, meaning you’ll taste the salt earlier in the process. If using Morton’s, give the salt a chance to fully dissolve in the dish before tasting and adjusting for flavor.

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Sea salt

Sea salt is obtained from evaporated seawater. It is a very clean tasting salt and can contain up to 60 different trace minerals which are healthy micronutrients. Sea salt is available in coarse and fine versions. Fine sea salt is a perfect salt to keep in the salt shaker to season dishes at the table, or when you need the salt to dissolve quickly to a seasoning spray. Coarse sea salt can be useful for salting meats before cooking. Extra course sea salt, such as Maldon, is best used as a finishing salt.

flower of salt

Fleur de Sel is a flake salt that originated on the coast of Brittany, France, where it is harvested from the tops of saltwater ponds. It is not used during cooking, but as a secondary seasoning. Its large, flat salt flakes are often used as a finishing salt to impart a mild, salty flavor and crunchy texture to salads. Baked goodsand other foods where their texture and visual appeal can shine.

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Himalayan pink salt

This peach-pink salt gets its color from iron oxide. The color difference is more striking than any flavor variation, although it has more mineral notes than other salts. It is most often mined from the Khewra Salt Mine in Pakistan and is used as a finishing salt.

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black salt

Also known as Kala Manak, this is another Himalayan salt. It is used in Indian cooking when its characteristic sulfur flavor is needed. It gets that flavor from the sodium sulfate that is in its composition. Black salt is one of the ingredients that gives chaat masala its characteristic sour taste.

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sel gray

This fluffy, grayish-finish salt is made using the same evaporation method as regular sea salt, but comes from sea foam, resulting in a salt that has a wonderful texture and a slight salty taste. It is better for finishing dishes than as an integrated seasoning, especially in hot dishes, where its delicate flavor and texture would be lost.

With all these cooking and finishing salts available, you’ll want mix and match them in your kitchen. Be aware of over-salt your food; start with less than you think you need and build from there.

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