But many of these cooks make a point of mentioning, when they're putting salt on something, that they're using sea salt, or kosher salt, or coarse ground salt. I'm thinking, what's the difference? It's all salt, isn't it? And how can salt be kosher, anyway?
- When it comes to varieties of salts, the short answer is, it isn't all just salt. As you may have learned in Chemistry class, salt is the vernacular for sodium chloride (NaCl). But different salts that you can put on your food may or may not have other minerals in addition to good old NaCl.
- The kind you grew up with, perhaps Morton's, is harvested from salt mines, which are actually salt deposits left behind from extinct oceans. The salt is additionally processed to remove any other minerals.
- Most salt producers then add iodine. This was something salt makers started doing in the 1920's to help combat various thyroid-related diseases that could be easily cured by increasing people's iodine intake. So they put it in the salt, and now, very few people in the Western world suffer from goiter and other such illnesses. Thanks, Morton!
- Also, most salt makers add some type of anti-caking agent to keep the salt from clumping, which it will try to do if the humidity goes up. Hence, Morton's claim that their salt "always pours when it rains," because it's got an anti-caking agent in it.
See how carefree the umbrella girl is, with her salt pouring all over the place, even in the rain? Such are the benefits of anti-caking agents!
(Image sourced from Ahorre products)
- These types of salts are harvested from seawater that is channeled into enormously wide trays where the sun evaporates the water and leaves behind the salt. The salt is then purified to remove any traces of aquatic life or bacteria and other badness. The salt could be further processed so that the additional minerals are refined out, but those extra goodies are left in with the salt.
Saltwater being evaporated the old-school way to leave the salt behind, in Ile de Re, France.
(Photo from Answers.com)
- Any given sea salt could therefore include other minerals such as iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium, manganese, zinc, or iodine to boot. These minerals will be present in trace amounts only, so they won't really have any nutritional benefit. But people say that sea salts have more flavor than regular refined table salt because of the extra minerals.
- Sea salts can come from any body of saltwater, but they are marketed as having come from one particular part of one ocean or another. Apparently, you're supposed to know that Mediterranean salt tastes better than North Sea salt, or something.
- This is a type of sea salt, and I mention it specifically only because it is an example of a "moister" salt. The amount of water that is evaporated away from the salt may vary, or it may or may not have that extra anti-clumping chemical added. In this case, a bit more moisture has been left in. This particular type of salt is harvested off the coast of Brittany (near France), and the minerals in the salt that comes from that area give it a greyish tinge. This salt is considered the salt of salts and can be very expensive.
The highly prized grey salt
(Available from Gourmet Sleuth for $6.95 for 8 oz.)
Coarse or Grinder Salt
- These types of salt don't boast any special flavors; they are simply not ground to fine grains but available in larger crystal forms. You could grind the salt crystals yourself if you like, but many cooks use it in its crystal form, either because they feel they get a better sense of how much salt they're adding, or because it's more effective when salting meat or fish to preserve or smoke it.
- Generally speaking, the bigger the crystal, the more you'll taste it because it will take that much longer to dissolve in the food and in your mouth.
- Conversely, salts can be ground or milled to very fine grains to be used in baking or making pastries. These types of salt also include an anti-caking agent.
- Does not contain iodine
- Does not contain any other additives that keep it from caking or clumping
- Is recommended for pickling because those additives will make the brine cloudy
- The absence of anti-caking additives also means it will adhere better to the food
- It is usually available in larger crystals, or in flake form, which will also help it cling to the food
- The salt itself is not kosher -- it cannot be "made" according to Jewish laws of preparing foods -- but it is used in the preparation of meats which then can be called kosher. To make meats kosher, they are soaked and then rubbed with salt so that any traces of blood are washed away.
Morton's also makes a kosher salt. You could buy this three-pound box for $2.99.
(Image from Slate.com)
For a review of various available salts, both in terms of taste and value, check out "Worth One's Salt," by Dan Crane at Slate com.
Salt Works, Gourmet Salt Reference Guide
Gourmet Sleuth, Culinary Salt - a cook's guide
Food Network, What is the difference between kosher salt, sea salt, and table salt?
Ask Yahoo, What is kosher salt? Is it better for you than regular salt?
Walton Feed, Salt (especially good explanation of kosher salt)
Mayo Clinic, Sea salt and kosher salt: Are they better for you than regular salt?
Lynn A Kunts, "The Many Benefits of Salt," Food Product Design, October 1994