A Guide to Salt
From kosher salt to black salt, let’s demystify and dive into this superstar of seasoning.
Salt is the undisputed champion of the seasoning section. Nearly every recipe, savoury or sweet, calls for at least a pinch, and few of us would ever boil, bake or bhuna without it.
But wander into the condiment aisle of your local supermarket and it’s quickly apparent that this storecupboard staple comes in many forms. In fact, you could fill up a whole cabinet with salts of all shapes and sizes from different regions and parts of the world.
Let’s start with the basics. There are two types of salt, broadly speaking: sea or evaporative salt (which comes from saltwater) and rock salt (which comes from the land).
Just like wine or coffee, the salts from these environments carry the flavors and minerals of the place they were harvested from, and just like wine or coffee, finding the right one to pair with different foods can be a process of trial and error, or simply a matter of personal taste.
But if you’re wondering which kind should jump to the front of the queue, the simple answer is it boils down to having a salt for each of its main uses in cooking: a quick-dissolving salt for baking, seasoning, or preserving food, and a larger flaked, finishing salt to add texture or a controlled pop of flavor to your dish.
Still unsure? Let’s take a closer look at a few varieties, and when to use them.
Sea salt is the broad term that generally refers to what’s left behind when seawater evaporates. Some are highly refined and pretty close to neutral in flavour, while other unrefined varieties, mostly from artisan producers, contain micronutrients and minerals that give them a clean flavour and distinctive taste.
Fine sea salt has been crushed to a sandy texture which means it’s ready to sprinkle over any dish and will dissolve easily during cooking. Coarse sea salt can be used in much the same way, either in it’s naturally chunky form or made finer in a grinder.
Then there’s the delicate flakes (which are more labour intensive to produce). These add texture and extra flavour, and should be used where they can be fully appreciated—think a few generous flecks over a finished steak, rather than salting your pasta water.
This is the stuff you’ll find in the salt shaker. If we’re getting technical though (and we are) table salt is usually highly refined, which means it’s heavily ground, has had most of its trace minerals removed, and is often enhanced with iodine and anti-clumping agents.
All in all, flavour lovers avoid using table salt for cooking because, in addition to the metallic aftertaste iodine tends to leave, the crystals are tiny and extremely compact, which makes over-salting your food a whole lot easier.
When it comes to seasoning water before cooking vegetables or throwing some pasta in the pot however, this salt is the ideal choice because it dissolves quickly.
What is Kosher salt? It’s a common question. Firstly, this salt gets its name from it’s uncanny ability to draw the moisture out of meat before cooking, so it’s used in the “koshering” process as prescribed by Jewish dietary laws.
Kosher salt enhances the flavour of foods instead of simply making them taste salty, which is why a lot of cooks prefer it over table salt. It’s coarse, uniform, easy-to-pinch granules are also easy to control (so you’re less likely to over salt).
A true all-rounder, Kosher salt is also iodine-free, relatively inexpensive to buy and is recommended for just about every form of seasoning and cooking, except for baking.
Himalayan Pink Salt
Himalayan pink salt is loved for its mild flavour, distinctive colour, and beneficial minerals – one of which is responsible for that rosy glow and it’s subtly sweet flavour.
Often mined in the Punjab region of Pakistan near the Himalayas, from ancient sea beds that crystallised long before modern pollutants existed, Himalayan pink salt falls into the tiny percentage of rock salt that’s actually used in cooking. And, since it’s hand-mined and ground, producers argue that it is even more natural than sea salt.
Often used in block or slab form as a cooking surface, but also available in the more traditional coarse salt or fine grained variety, this sparkling sodium can be used for all your salting needs, from seasoning or finishing.
There are two main types of salt commonly called “black salt.” The first refers to a seasoning that combines sea salt and volcanic clay or activated charcoal, sometimes called Hawaiian or black lava salt. These crunchy crystals have an intensely earthy yet smoky aroma which adds some serious flavour, but needs to be used sparingly.
Next there’s the flavour bomb that is kala namak or Himalayan black salt. This addictive South Asian rock salt is known for its salty, sour, and tangy all-at-once taste. It has a sulphurous aroma and savoury edge, and is often used to add an eggy flavour to dishes.
Both of these salts have a high mineral content, which contributes to their strong flavours, and are at their best used to add some flare or a little something extra to a finished dish.
Remember, there are no quick fixes for over salted food. Instead, salt and taste as you go.