Salt

by Anne Bennett on June 13, 2009

Sitting on the counter beside my stove are three small bowls of various sizes, each containing a different kind of salt. The largest dish contains Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. Another holds the most familiar salt in America,  Morton’s Iodized Table Salt. And the third comes in its own fancy lidded jar with an equally fancy name–fleur de sel (translated: flower of salt), hand-harvested sea salt from France. Gourmet cooks call this the “creme de la creme” of salts.

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Why three kinds of salt? After all, isn’t it all just sodium chloride? While that is basically true, salt has subtle differences in both looks and taste depending upon where it came from and how it was harvested. It also has different uses in the kitchen.

Most table salt is mined from ancient sea beds that dried up millions of years ago. Water is pumped into vast underground beds to dissolve the salt, then the brine is pumped to the surface and vacuum-exaporated into the tiny round grains that end up in the world’s salt shakers. Most table salt has added anti-caking agents to make it free-flowing.  Iodized salt has potassium iodide added to prevent iodine deficiency, which was once a health problem. Kosher salt is designed to produce larger crystals that cling to meat in the kosher butchering process. 

Sea salt is produced from shallow pools of sea water. As the water evaporates, a thin layer of irregularly shaped salt crystals form and are hand raked before they sink. Sea salt is very expensive, comes in sealed jars and is slightly damp. It can be white, grey or even pink, depending on where it was harvested and the unique mineral content of the water.

These different salts are not always interchangeable in cooking. For instance, table salt is best for baking because it dissolves readily when added to liquid batters. The larger grains in kosher and sea salt can retain their shape and cause baked goods to have unwanted pockets of saltiness. However, kosher and sea salts make a superior finishing salt, sprinkled on meats or vegetables, because their larger crystals cling better to food surfaces and have a bolder, crunchy taste. 

As an added bonus for those wishing to cut down on their salt intake, I find that I end up using less salt when I sprinkle sea salt on such foods as tomatoes because, with their larger crystal size, a little actually goes a longer way.  

So, I keep a little bowl of Morton’s by the stove for baking, a bigger bowl of kosher salt for adding to pots of boiling water for pasta and the fancy jar of sea salt for sprinkling on vegetables at the last minute. When you’re eating healthfully, paying attention to the little salty details can make all the difference.

(Interesting historical note: The word salt derives from the Latin word for salary, or “salarium”, a payment made in salt. In Roman times soldiers were given an allowance to buy salt. So if you’re hesitating to buy the expensive French sea salt, it could help to remember that Roman soldiers actually put their lives on the line for it. That might make your purchase seem a bit less frivolous!)

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda June 13, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Great info…thanks, Anne!

Jade July 1, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Thanks Anne my mom will try the recipes

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