Salt! A Culinary Guide
When a recipe calls for salt and you reach over to your trusty shaker, what’s in it? Salt is probably one of the most used ingredients in your kitchen. Saltiness is important in every cuisine around the globe because it is one of the five categories of taste that we sense: salt, sweet, sour, bitter, umami. Because of the chemistry of our bodies and how they function, salt makes things taste more like themselves. What a cool thing! Salt more often enhances other ingredients’ deliciousness than it is the star of the show.
Back to your salt shaker though, what salt do you buy and why? Have you thought about it?
All edible salt is mostly sodium chloride sometimes mixed with a few other minerals. There’s evidence of culinary salt production from over 8,000 years ago!
Common “Table Salt” is mined naturally but then dissolved in water and re-dried in order to produce a small uniform crystal. Sometimes, iodide is added and it will be called Iodized Salt; you’ve definitely seen this in just about every kitchen in the U.S.A. Adding iodide to salt began in the 1920s when many children had deficiencies that led to goiters in a shockingly large percent of the population. For the most part – you do not need this for your diet. You can get the daily amount of iodide from eating foods like: leafy greens, fish, yogurt, milk, shrimp, eggs, canned tuna, dried fruit, etc. (Check with your doctor if you think you have an iodide deficiency). The main reason to get your iodide elsewhere is that table salt isn’t good! It doesn’t taste great.
Kosher Salt is my preferred salt for cooking. Many chefs agree that it’s the go to for salt while cooking. Kosher salt confusingly, may not actually be Kosher! It’s named this way because once-upon-a-time, this was the salt type used for “koshering meat,” the process of butchering that does result in kosher meat. Now it’s a type of salt unto itself and you’d have to read the fine print to see if it’s truly kosher. The reason it’s great for cooking though, is because of its clean, lightly salty taste. Because of the larger crystal shape, kosher salt melts on your tongue evenly and slowly.
Sea salt is a common type of culinary salt that is more of a category than one specific type. There are hundreds of varieties that depend on where the salt is mind. Sea salt literally comes from evaporating salt water! Just like wine grapes, coffee, vegetables and anything else tied to the quality of the ground it’s produced on, this affects the size, color, taste, and salinity. That said, you will see plenty of generic “Sea Salts” out there. They’re mass produced and less specific to a region but still come from sea water. Sea salt is ok for cooking but is saltier tasking than kosher salt so be aware when making substitutions. One of the most famous sea salts is Maldon – this is beloved by chefs and bakers for its huge sparkly crystals, making it a great option for garnish on chocolate chip cookies or oven baked french fries.
Fleur de Sel is originally from France with similar versions in Italy too. This salt comes from salt ponds and has a wetter, sandier consistency. It’s less salty on the tongue and has a very briny, minerally taste. Different brands will vary in taste. Because its sticky, expensive, and less salty, it makes a great finishing salt.
In recent years Pink Himalayan Salt, Hawaiian Red Salt, and some black and grey salts have been having a moment. These are also primarily used for finishing and they each have their own saltiness, minerality, and textures. Try buying these salts from the bulk spice section so you can spend just a few dollars and try lots of types before committing.
Regardless which salt you’re buying and using be sure to store it in a dry, dark place. Moisture is the enemy of salt – picture those outdoor salt shakers at your local summertime outdoor, humid restaurant where it’s all clumped. I like to use a salt pig to store salt, it’s a little bamboo container with an open lid. I keep the box of kosher salt in the dry pantry cupboard and refill the countertop container weekly or so. Any specialty salts are stored in a little jar in my spice cabinet.