Everything You Need to Know About Different Types of Salt

·4 min read

Stand in the salt section of the grocery store, and it's quickly apparent that you have options. Though a pantry staple, salt isn't always on the forefront of the home cook's mind. We simply take for granted that it's there.

However, there are many different types of salt—and they do make a difference in your recipe. McCormick Test Kitchen Manager Hadar Cohen Aviram shares the key characteristics of different salts and where they'll shine best.

Sea Salt vs. Table Salt vs. Kosher Salt

They may seem similar, but they aren't interchangeable.

"All salt must adhere to the FDA definition of salt," Cohen Aviram says. "The difference is in the grain size and shape. The salt crystals in fine salt are much smaller and more unified in shape, while Kosher salt's crystals are bigger, flatter, and oddly shaped."

So, when your recipe calls for a teaspoon of Kosher salt, this means you'll get a lot more than you bargained for by swapping for table salt in terms of dish texture and saltiness.

How is Salt Made?

Not all salt is created equal. The source and method of harvesting can differ.

"Salt can be harvested on land—from rock deposits, or at sea—by evaporating seawater," Cohen Aviram says. "The slower the evaporation, the bigger the crystals will be—and the more expensive."

Additionally, you should know that not all salts are iodized. According to Cohen Aviram, salt must be treated with sodium iodine or potassium iodine, as iodine does not naturally occur in it. Unless it's specified on the packaging, don't assume your salt is iodized.

pink salt
pink salt

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How to Use Finishing Salt

As the name implies, you'll add a finishing salt to the completed dish, as opposed to incorporating it early in the recipe. "The bigger crystals deliver a pleasant mouthfeel, enhancing the food experience," Cohen Aviram shares.

Finishing salts can impact everything from afternoon drinks to brunch. Their larger crystals are the reason you can perfectly rim a Margherita glass and why avocado toast and summer tomatoes just taste better with a little sprinkling of it. "These bigger, flakier crystals will create pleasant flavor explosions of saltiness in your mouth, even if very subtle," Cohen Aviram says.

Getting Fancy: Specialty Salts

Beyond our usual table, sea, and kosher salts, there are many fun salts available, all with their own unique flavor profile and harvesting process. For best results, Cohen Aviram says that cooks should use the salts sparingly as you plate your dish. Adding the these finishing salts as an ingredient in your recipe is a waste as it will completely dissolve and you won't be able to enjoy the texture.

Fleur de Sel & Sel Gris

The sophisticated-sounding fleur de sel and sel gris are two salts cultivated in the same region of France. The difference between the two is in the harvesting—sel gris is allowed to touch the bottom of the ocean before harvest, which gives it a grey color and slightly moist consistency. Cohen Aviram recommends using it on salads, eggs, and pasta.

Pink Salt

"Pink salt gets its orange-pink hue from traces of minerals like magnesium, potassium and calcium," Cohen Aviram says. "Those are tiny amounts, so they won't do much for you as a dietary supplement. It will, however, be gorgeous coarsely sprinkled on light-color dishes: Think cured salmon, avocado toast, ravioli, and even brownies."

Himalayan Black Salt

This is a type of volcanic rock salt and contains traces of Sulphur compounds, giving the salt a "funky, eggy flavor," as Cohen Aviram calls it. "It can be used to create an egg-like flavor profile even when eggs are not part of the recipe. It plays a key role in the Indian Chaat Masala blend. It won't be the same without it."

Hawaiian Alaea Red Salt

Another volcanic salt, Alaea red salt gets its tint from red clay. Compared to table salt, it's mellow in taste and crunchy, thanks to the large grain size. Alaea red salt is a great garnish for Hawaiian dishes like poke, as well as a sugar enhancer when used in confections.

Black Lava Salt

"This salt is enriched with activated charcoal, which can be consumed," Cohen Aviram says. "This is another finishing salt that will be very aesthetically pleasing on anything from seafood such as shrimp and scallops, to watermelon or tomatoes."

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