Thursday, September 1, 2011

Salt is Salt. Right?

It was not until recently that I began to dabble in the salt world. You think all salt is created equal? Think again... There are so many salts out there! I thought I would share some information on some of them...

All salt is technically sea salt, but the harvesting and refining processes can differ greatly. Salt is made up of Sodium Chloride, but the flavor differences can be from environmental influences or from human influences.

The history of salt is fascinating! Believe it or not, salt has been used longer than history has recorded! Salt is one of the elements that have appeared in the history of almost every other country. Salt has been used for trading, for health, for religion, for status, and for preserving and flavoring foods for years! Now days, salt is still used for health, but also for gardens (Epsom salts), cleaning, ice-melting, cosmetic, spa, and culinary applications.

Salt comes in many different forms, such as flake, fine, coarse, and brick.
Flake salt is processed in a way that the salt appears to look like snow- "flakes". This type of salt is most often used as a finishing salt right before service.

Fine Salt is the salt generally used for baking, as it distributes evenly throughout the baked good. It is also the form of many sea salts and table salts.

Coarse Salt is great for putting in a grinder, providing fresh ground sea salt. Salt in this form is good for high humidity or long storage, as it is not as susceptible to clumping due to moisture.

Brick Salt usually comes in the form of a Himalayan Salt brick. These bricks come in many different shapes, and can be used to serve cold food or cook and serve hot foods. The bricks impart a briny salt flavor to any moist food placed on it. Bricks may be heated on the barbecue and used to sear meats or vegetables. Bricks may also be used to cure fish and seafood. The Himalayan bricks are a beautiful peach/pink color and can be used over and over.

Ok, now onto some salt varieties...

Table salt is probably the least healthy and most refined of salts. It is harvest and highly refined to remove all other minerals. It is then sprayed with an iodine mixture. This practice began in the 1920's during the Depression in conjunction with the government after many people were found to be suffering from Goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid caused by iodine deficiency. Many foods provide natural iodine, so adding the iodine in table salt to your diet is not necessary.

Kosher Salt is named Kosher due to certifications for maintaining guidelines during the processing in accordance with Jewish laws. It is also named because of its applications in the Jewish diet. This salt is not as refined as table salt, and has a larger, flake-like appearance than sea or table salt.

Grey Salt is becoming better known. I personally love to use this variety, as the flavor is much more complex than table salt! The salt has many different varieties, such as Celtic Sea Salt, French Sea Salt, and Grey Sea Salt. This salt has an almost moist texture and comes in coarse and fine varieties. The color appears grey due to the mineral content specific to the harvesting regions. Grey salt also has a lower sodium content, about 83-87%, so it is a better salt for you. The salt is harvested using the traditional Celtic method, off the shores of France and Portugal. The salt farmers or paludiers rake salt that has evaporated from sea water in shallow salt plots called salt pans, in which water has been allowed into by a dike that opens and closes. What sets it apart from most methods is that they use only wooden tools. Metal never touches the salt. The Celtic method goes back hundreds of years!

Fleur de Sel or "Flower of Salt" is a salt harvested in much the same way as grey salt, with the Celtic method. This salt is prized in France and is used all over the world. Fleur de Sel is a creamy off-white color. It is a fine art to harvest this type of salt, as too much movement could cause the salt crystals to sink and ruin the harvest. Fleur de Sel makes a great finishing salt, but is also great in general cooking.

Pink Salt is most commonly Himalayan Pink Salt, but there are also Murray River and Peruvian Pink salts. This is the salt commonly found in the brick form. Pink salt ranges in colors from a pale pink to a deep almost burgundy color. It contains 84 minerals and trace elements, which is why it is said to be so good for you!

Blue Salt comes in one variety - Persian Blue Salt. Blue salt is the rarest of salts, blue-flecked in appearance due to compressed, fractured crystals. Interestingly enough, the salt is not actually blue - it only appears blue. Harvested in Iran, this salt is highly prized for its taste and appearance.

Black Salt comes in 3 varieties - Black Lava, Black Hawaiian, and Kala Namak (pictured at left). Black Lava is a Sicilian salt that is combined with activated charcoal, which gives it its lush, black color. The charcoal also acts as a detoxifier! Black Hawaiian if from Hawaii, but basically the same as Black Lava. Kala Namak is mined in Central India. The salt is rich in minerals that lend a sulphuric taste to the salt. Despite its name, the Kala Namak is a light pink color when ground. 
Hawaiian Salt, also called Hawaiian 'Alaea Salt, is nearly red in color. The volcanic clay added to the salt, called 'Alaea is rich in iron oxide and is where the color of the salt is derived. The volcanic clay adds an earthiness not found in regular sea salt. 

Smoked Salt is a fantastically flavorful salt! The salt is cold-smoked with a variety of natural woods to lend a smoky, fresh-off-the-grill taste to any meal. The smoke coats the salt crystals, turning them a grayish brown. Make sure the salt you buy is truly smoked, not just flavored. Flavoring tends to bitter the salt. While grilling with a gas grill, is convenient, you can't achieve the true smoky flavor as you can in a campfire or over a charcoal grill. But, this gets you almost the same results! This is also great on oysters from the grill...

Flavored Salts are probably one of the most versatile categories! There are so many, some with lemon or herbs, some with sweet flavorings or vegetables, others with truffles or vanilla. Many of these salts can do double duty in the flavor department and work well as a finishing salt.

While I haven't tried all of these salts, I have certainly enjoyed cooking with the ones I have! I look forward to trying some new salts and I hope this inspires you to cook with some of these and change up your normal routine of "Please pass the salt"!

Pictures courtesy of SaltWorks, Inc. Check out their website for some great salt varieties!


  1. Wow, super cool, Holly! I had no idea there were SOOO many varieties! Which is your favorite?

  2. Too many to choose from! LOL! I'm looking forward to doing a review on some of these salts, but I have a feeling I still won't have a favorite!

  3. WOW!!! Lots of interesting facts! I didn't know all that stuff! Thanks for sharing it all!!!