It might sometimes be seen as a dirty word today, but salt has been an integral facet of human interaction for millennia — in trade, religious ritual, ancient and modern medicine, fairy tales, warfare, and obviously, food. A world without salt would be bleak, but not as bleak as a kitchen purely relying on refined table salt.
For the discerning palates among us, the salt you sprinkle has serious impact. Personally, I'm a Himalayan pink salt girl—although to be honest I don’t know if that's a reflection of my Elle Woods-like fascination with pink or my highly advanced taste buds. Regardless, experimenting with different types of salt is a necessity for any self-proclaimed foodie. Below is our saline decoder for the most coveted varieties.
Harvested from ancient sea salt deposits found in the Khewra Salt Mine in Pakistan, Himalayan salt is revered for its purity and rich minerals. It's also a staple in spa treatments (from detox soaks to air purifying lamps) and any superfood-inclined restaurant or juice bar. If you're a true salt fiend, you can use Himalayan salt slabs as a surface to serve food, as they hold temperature well. Himalayan salt is versatile as a cooking, baking, and finishing salt.
2. Crystalline Sea Salt
Hailing from coastal regions worldwide, crystalline sea salt takes on a different flavor depending on the impurities left behind after evaporation, and can range from subtly briny to sweet to bitter. Sea salt can also be used interchangeably with refined table salt, but be aware that coarser sea salt can create more concentrated salty bursts rather than an even distribution if you sprinkle post-cooking.
3. Kosher Salt
Oddly enough, not all kosher salt is certified Kosher; it was originally named for its role in preparing meat following Jewish dietary guidelines but the name can refer to both certified kosher salt and "kosher-style" salt. It's coarser than your basic table salt but actually has a softer flavor profile since there are no additives (unlike table salt, which has added iodine), making it a chef favorite. Because it dissolves quickly and has a neutral taste, kosher salt is a great all-purpose salt option.
4. Fleur de Sel
As you can surmise from its luxurious name, fleur de sel, or "flower of salt" en français, is carefully hand-harvested in Guérande, Brittany. Fleur de sel is comprised of delicate, irregular crystals that are collected from the water's surface rather than at the bottom of the evaporating pool. This salt is best used sparingly as a finishing salt for veggies or proteins.
5. Sel Gris or Celtic Salt
With a grayer color signaling its rich minerals deposits, Celtic salt is also harvested from salt evaporation ponds in Brittany (which is near the Celtic sea, hence the name). Raked from the bottom of these ponds using traditional techniques from many moons ago, it is coarse, granular, chunky and moist. Pair with heartier roasted foods or rustic baking — either as a finishing or cooking salt.
6. Kala Namak or Black Salt
Kala Namak is a rock salt from India with a unique sulfurous taste due to its high concentration of minerals. Long revered in Ayurveda medicine for its healing abilities, kala namak has cooling properties and can be used as a digestive aid. This salt pairs well with Indian recipes of chutney, raita, or savory snacks, and is ideal for any vegan seeking a savory sulfuric egg taste in tofu scrambles.
7. Red Hawaiian Sea Salt
A ceremonial salt rich in trace materials, Red Hawaiian sea salt is both cleansing and purifying; traditional Hawaiian culture used red sea salt in rituals such as blessing canoes for journeys. Its red hue can be attributed to Alaea, volcanic baked red clay rich in iron oxide. Red Hawaiian sea salt's earthy taste can be used as a cooking or a finishing salt, and is especially delicious on any grilled foods.
8. Smoked Salt
This dynamic salt is smoked with bark free woods ranging from hickory to mesquite to alder wood, which shift its taste from bold to tangy to sweet. In addition to highlighting preexisting flavor profiles, smoked salt packs an extra punch that is perfect for vegetarians or vegans seeking smoky taste sans bacon.
9. Black Lava Salt
Since activated charcoal is all the rage right now, black lava salt is the next foodie darling. Its production process involves evaporating Hawaiian ocean water and infusing the sea salt with activated coconut shell charcoal. With its slightly smoky, earthy taste, black lava salt is completely different from the eggy black salt of India.
You've been warned: this is not designed as a cooking salt, as the added charcoal will settle. Use as a finishing salt only!
10. Salt Flakes
Due to its lower trace mineral content, flake salt possesses a stronger and sharper salty taste. Couple that with large crystal structure and quick solubility, and you've got a finishing salt ideal for salads, avocado toast, roasted veggies, or any other bites needing a clear burst of saltiness.
11. Seasoned Salt
A salt-lover's dream: Why use plain old herbs and spices when you can have that delightful sodium bonus?! Truffle salt is the lush favorite, but garlic salt, lemon salt, or blends involving thyme, marjoram, paprika, onion powder, and the like can also work wonders in any dish. Make sure you read ingredients carefully on any seasoned salt you purchase, since MSG, "chicken extract," sodium nitrate, or genetically modified ingredients could be lurking in any non-health food brand.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont