Sea salt, table salt, kosher salt, Himalayan salt, pickling salt, fleur de sel, flavored salt, smoked salt, low-sodium salt . . . The list of salt choices has grown far beyond the single salt shaker we once knew. The grocery shelves are now lined with numerous possibilities. Why so many choices? Is one better than another? Which should you use for what?
The answer to such questions could become an entire SALT 101 course. Bottom line, all salts are not created equal but essentially are alike. Salt, in any form, is a crystalline mineral made of two elements, sodium and chlorine, both essential to life. However, in our quest to get these essential elements, we must be mindful that the American Heart Association recommends keeping our salt intake to less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day or roughly two-thirds of a teaspoon of table salt. Most of the world’s salt is harvested from underground salt mines or by evaporating sea water or other mineral-rich waters. It is the processing after harvest that makes the difference.
Here’s a quick “shake” on salt:
Table Salt – Table salt is available plain or fortified with iodine; iodine is important for thyroid regulation. Table salt also dissolves the quickest making it ideal for most cooking and baking.
Kosher Salt – Many chefs use kosher as it is a flatter, lighter, and flakier salt. Because of its irregular shaped granules and subtle crunch, it is a good salt to use to flavor food as the larger grains give you less sodium per teaspoon. Kosher salt is also commonly used to rim margaritas.
Sea Salt – The bigger granules of sea salt offer more flavor with less sodium. However, it may not be a good choice for routine cooking or baking since it does not dissolve easily and can cause issues with the taste and texture of dishes prepared with it. It is great for garnishing.
Low-Sodium Salt – The sodium chloride is reduced with the addition of potassium chloride, a mineral that tastes salty but is bitter when heated. It works well as a replacement in the salt shaker at the table but should not be used by those on blood pressure medications.
Pickling Salt – Canning salt or pickling salt is pure salt and as such is more concentrated. It contains no additives. This is the best choice for canning, pickling, sauerkraut making, and brining meat. A publication by Penn State University, Types of Salt and Salt Substitutes in Canning, offers some great information on using salt in food preservation.
Gourmet Salts – This group might include salts by such names as Fleur de Sel, Sel Gris, infused salt, Himalayan salt, Celtic salt, and others. These salts tend to be more expensive and are used for various purposes in food preparation but largely they make a great finishing salt for the special flavors they may impart.
Rock Salt – Mined from deposits in the earth, rock salt is for making ice cream and deicing. It should not be used directly on food. Minerals and other harmless impurities can give it a grayish color.
The above is by no means a complete list of all salt possibilities but will hopefully help you navigate some of the choices available.