A Cook’s Guide to Varieties of Salt

You’ll rarely find a table in any household kitchen or restaurant without a shaker of salt perched upon it, eagerly waiting to douse your food with its’ subtle flavor-enhancing abilities. Those tiny white particles sprinkle like delicate flurries of snow over everything from a slice of buttered bread to a hearty steak dinner. Many of you no doubt reach for the salt and season your meal with a robotic-like impulse, before even tasting it.

There is no shame in being a slave to salt, but if you are going to persist in making it a necessary ingredient, you should at least be aware of the many varieties of salt that can be purchased and used in food preparation, cooking, and seasoning. You may find that ordinary table salt just isn’t adequate enough, and can sometimes even ruin a dish.

Most varieties of salt can be found in your ordinary, everyday supermarket, but you may need to search for others in a gourmet shop, though unless you are a practicing chef, you most likely wont need the less common salts.

We are all familiar with table salt, which is essentially available in two varieties; iodized and non-iodized. There is practically no difference between the two, other than the obvious absence of iodine in the non-iodized salt. The iodized salt can sometimes produce a bitter taste when mixed with other ingredients, a steak marinade for example. The iodine has mainly been added to the salt in an effort for people to get a necessary nutrient into their diet if it is not readily available in other foods. Both salts have other additives to keep the particles free-flowing.

Table salt should be used sparingly; since the particles are small, using too much will overpower the other flavors of your meal. Additionally, it should mainly be used to season a completed meal; hence the name “table salt”. For preparation, either kosher salt or, to a lesser extent, sea salt should be utilized.

Many recipes do not specify a particular salt as an ingredient, but as a guide, try to use kosher salt. Kosher salt was originally developed for kosher meals, but it has become the salt of choice for many would-be cooks and professional chefs. Somewhat coarser than table salt, and free of iodine and other additives, this salt will also adhere better to meats and other foods, but will also taste slightly less salty.

Sea salt is developed from sea water that has evaporated, and contains very minute amounts of various minerals, making it more of a nutritious salt of choice, though in actuality, the amount of minerals contained within the salt is likely not enough to make any noticeable difference. The flavor, however, is said to be stronger and bolder.

There are in fact many different varieties of sea salt. You’ll find a basic sea salt in your supermarket, but a specialty or gourmet shop should have others, many of them quite expensive. These include smoked sea salt, in which the salt is smoked over a fire to impart a natural smoky flavor, used primarily for grilling or roasting, and quite popular with salmon. Hawaiian sea salt, also know as Alaea, or Hawaiian Red Salt, contains a natural mineral of volcanic red clay that gives this salt a reddish-pink color.

Others include Fleur de Sel, harvested in France, French sea salt, harvested from the Atlantic, and Flake salt, a light crystalline-type salt. Italian sea salt comes from the Mediterranean Sea, These salts are traditionally used to season a finished meal.

Grey salt is another type of sea salt also known as Celtic sea salt, found mainly in France. Considered to be the best salt available by the culinary world, it has a hefty price tag attached.

Black salt is actually grayish-pink in color. This unrefined salt has a strong sulfuric flavor, and is traditionally used in Indian cuisine.

Striding back over to the common side of salt, traditional coarse salt is sometimes preferred over regular salt because the larger size of the grains make it easier for chefs to measure amounts with their fingers. Additionally, it is less sensitive to moisture and caking.

For standard purposes, use kosher salt for cooking, and basic sea salt as a suitable table salt. If you want to add a more authentic flair to your cooking, then seek out the less common but highly flavorful salts. You will find that many of them add a great enhanced flavor to certain dishes, though the recipes you may be following should steer you in the direction of the proper salt.

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