There are numerous types of salt on the grocery store shelves, so how do you know which one to use? Different types of salt have different textures, sizes, and even flavors, making them suitable for some dishes, but terrible for others. Let's dive into the common types of salt for cooking & baking, and when to use them!
Importance of Salt
- Salt is made of the mineral sodium chloride. We need this mineral on a regular basis in order to survive, since it plays a critical role in functions such as blood pressure regulation, muscle movement, nerve transmission, and distribution of water and nutrients throughout the body.
- Because sodium chloride is vital to our survival, we are hardwired to crave it, like water. Therefore salt not only enhances flavor; it also satisfies our innate salt craving, increasing pleasure as we enjoy properly salted foods.
- According to Samin Nosrat in her book Salt Fat Acid Heat, “salt has a greater impact on flavor than any other ingredient.” Salt is unique because it not only adds its own flavor, but it also enhances the flavors of other ingredients.
- Salt enhances sweetness and balances out/reduces the taste of bitterness.
Types of Salt
There are two main types of salt: sea salt and rock salt. Sea salt is left behind when seawater evaporates. Rock salt is mined from old underground lakes and seas. Therefore, all salt technically comes from the sea, making the term "sea salt" slightly confusing.
Different types of salt have different sizes and textures. This means that some types of salt are better for baking, others are more suitable for cooking, while still others are best as "finishing salts" to sprinkle on finished dishes.
Table salt is the most common salt in the U.S. It's found in salt shakers on dining room tables and restaurants throughout the country, and it's usually iodized.
Iodine was added to salt in the early 1900’s to prevent goiter. But an iodine deficiency is no longer a public health concern in the U.S. since other iodine-rich foods are more readily available including seafood and dairy.
The addition of iodine to salt can give it a slightly bitter aftertaste, so it’s best to use plain (not iodized) table salt.
Table salt's tiny uniform crystals pour smoothly and dissolve easily because of anti-caking agents that are added to it. However a common anti-caking agent that's often used in table salt is dextrose, which is a form of sugar, to help stabilize the iodine.
This salt is great for sauces, dressings, and baked goods, since it dissolves easily and has a small, uniform size. However, the process to create table salt causes it to lose a lot of its natural mineral content.
Kosher salt is has a coarse, flaky texture. Its name comes from its history of being used for "koshering" meat. This is a traditional Jewish process where blood is removed from meat. Kosher salt is less refined, which means that it's almost pure sodium chloride, and does not contain additives.
Kosher salt dissolves easily, which means its flavor disperses quickly. In fact, kosher salt dissolves faster than table salt, so it’s ideal in food that’s cooked quickly, along with soup, pasta, etc. Kosher salt is also great for seasoning meat and vegetables.
Due to its large crystal size, it's not great for baking. Kosher salt crystals take up more volume than table salt. So if you’re measuring salt by volume and substituting one for the other, it's better to measure by weight or make a mathematic conversion.
Sea salt has a soft, flaky texture with large, irregular shapes. Like kosher salt, sea salt generally doesn't contain additives, so it doesn’t have any bitterness like you might find in table salt.
Fleur de sel and maldon salt are both types of sea salt. The process to obtain these salt crystals from seawater evaporation is slow and expensive, so these salts are typically more expensive.
There’s also granular sea salt, which looks similar to table salt. Its small size makes it great for seasoning foods like pasta, stew meat, and baked goods.
Sea salt is great for sprinkling on top of finished dishes like brownies, salad, or roasted vegetables.
Fleur de sel
Fleur de sel translates to “flower of salt”, a name inspired by the flower-like shape of its salt crystals. Fluer de sel is a type of sea salt that forms naturally on the surface of saltwater as it evaporates. This salt has been harvested for centuries in western France.
Fleur de sel is not refined, so it's rich in natural minerals.
This salt is generally more expensive, and it's great as a finishing salt on roasted vegetables, seafood, caramel sauce, and brownies to show off its beautiful shape and add a little crunch.
Sel gris is another type of French sea salt, but it has a gray color due to how it's harvested.
Maldon salt is also referred to as "flaky salt". This type of sea salt is harvested in the UK, in the town of Maldon (hence its name).
Each salt crystal has the shape of a small, hollow pyramid, and it adds little pockets of crunchy texture.
Just like fleur de sel, maldon salt is great as a finishing salt sprinkled on finished dishes to add flavor and texture like brownies, cookies, or savory dishes.
Pickling salt is also known as canning salt or preserving salt, since it's used to preserve food. It's made of pure granulated salt (sodium chloride), without any additives.
Additives (like those found in table salt) can add a cloudy or darkened appearance to the food you're pickling. Pickling salt is very fine in texture, so it dissolves really quickly. Unobscured pickling brine and quick dissolving action make pickling salt a home canner's go-to.
The best substitute for pickling salt is kosher salt when preserving food. But measure your salt by weight instead of by volume, since kosher salt crystals are much larger than pickling salt crystals. Therefore one teaspoon of kosher salt is actually a lot less salt than one teaspoon of pickling salt.
Pink Himalayan Salt
The size of pink Himalayan salt can vary. It is mined in Pakistan, and it's known for its pink color, which is caused by naturally occurring minerals.
This salt is great both for cooking and as a finishing salt. Note that it's pink color may change the overall color of food like bread and tortillas.
For baking, use table salt that doesn't contain any iodine.
For cooking, use kosher salt.
To add a culinary flair to savory and sweet dishes that demand a little crunchy texture and salty flavor, use flaky sea salt like fleur de sel or maldon.
And for pickling and preserving food, use pickling salt.
Learn More Essential Kitchen Skills
Now that you're an expert in the different types of salt and when to use them, are you ready to dive deeper into expanding your skills in the kitchen? Check out these other helpful posts, and let me know what you've got cooking!