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What Is Kosher Salt?
Kosher salt is a naturally-occurring mineral used to season food and to aid in baking. Salt is harvested from rock salt deposits in salt mines or by evaporating seawater, which leaves sodium chloride behind in the form of crystals. Kosher salt is made of crystals that are larger and rougher than other salt crystals.
What Is the History of Kosher Salt?
Kosher salt is not itself a kosher food (unless it is processed that way), but its name is derived from what it was once used for. Koshering is a Jewish culinary tradition of removing the blood from meat. Koshering salt had larger, flakier crystals that were able to draw out liquid from meat and were easy to rinse off afterwards. Companies began to package the salt, shortening the name to simply “kosher salt.” Two different brands established for koshering that are still popular for cooking today are Morton kosher salt and Diamond Crystal kosher salt.
3 Ways to Use Kosher Salt in Cooking
Kosher salt is preferred over other varieties for both professional chefs and home cooks alike. While it is used in basic cooking as an ingredient and a seasoning, there are a few other uses that call for this large, coarse salt. The large granules are easy to pinch, which is often a great way of adding salt since it’s easy to see and feel just how much salt is being added.
- Salting pasta water: To season pasta, add kosher salt to boiling water just before the pasta is put in to cook. As the noodles soften, they absorb the flavor.
- Brining: This ancient food-preservation process is still used today in order to make meats more flavorful and tender. One cup of kosher salt is added for every gallon of water used, then the meat (like a whole turkey) is added to the pot and refrigerated overnight.
- Margaritas: Salt or no salt? If you’ve ever ordered a margarita you’ve heard that question. Salt on the rim of margarita glasses makes the tart and sweet flavors of a margarita stand out. Kosher salt crystals add a little cunch, too.
Kosher Salt vs. Table Salt
Kosher salt can often be used in place of other salts, like regular table salt. But there are differences between the two:
- Crystal size: Table salt is very fine with small crystals that easily sprinkle out of a salt shaker, while kosher salt crystals have a rough texture and are bigger.
- Iodine: Table salt is iodized, which means it has iodine added. Kosher salt is usually not iodized. Chef Thomas Keller, owner of the world-renowned French Laundry in Napa, prefers to work with kosher salt, which is not iodized. He finds iodized salt to have a bitter taste. Additionally, he finds the flake size of kosher salt, which is larger than the size of table salt flake, to be easier to handle and apply with precision.
- Other additives: Table salt is ground into smaller grains so it often has additives, like anti-caking agents, to prevent clumping.
- Context: Kosher salt is used both during cooking or as a finishing salt while table salt is mostly meant to be used in recipes or while cooking, even though many people put it on tables to season food.
Kosher Salt vs. Sea Salt
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Kosher salt and sea salt are similar in that they both have larger crystals, but each has unique qualities that work best for different purposes. For instance, while Chef Thomas Keller uses kosher salt for seasoning throughout the cooking process, he prefers the flaky crunch and light clean flavor of Maldon sea salt for finishing.
- Crystal size: Sea salt is flakier and is more often used as a finishing salt, and often with sweets like chocolate bars. It is rarely used for cooking while kosher salt has a rougher texture and is used for cooking and seasoning. While Chef Keller uses kosher salt for seasoning throughout the cooking process, he prefers the flaky crunch and light clean flavor of Maldon sea salt for finishing.
- Minerals: Sea salt has added nutrients and trace minerals (like zinc and iron) from the ocean. Kosher salt is mostly sodium chloride. The more nutrients sea salt has the darker its color.
- Harvesting: Sea salt is harvested from salt water while kosher salt can be from water or mines.
4 Tips for Salting Food
Salt is one of the easiest food seasonings to find, and it’s always good to have a little of each kind—table salt, kosher salt, and sea salt—on hand in your kitchen. Kosher salt is the most versatile of the bunch and can be used in most recipes that call for salt. When shopping for kosher salt, look for the larger, diamond crystals and lighter, fluffier salt flakes rather than the dense or heavy kind. Here are four tips for salting food:
- Adjust measurements depending on the type of salt. If a recipe calls for a teaspoon of table salt, you can substitute one-and-a-half teaspoons of Morton coarse kosher salt or two teaspoons Diamond crystal salt (due to the larger grain size of this brand.)
- Make your kitchen a test kitchen. Try cooking with different kinds of salt in different ways to really taste the difference or feel how the different textures work in meals.
- Don’t add too much salt. Remember that you can always add more salt but you can’t remove it once it has been added. Start with a pinch and taste the food, adding salt until it reaches the desired flavor.
- Use salt to regulate the fermentation process for bread. Salt is a common ingredient in baking, and for good reason. Salt helps to control the fermentation of yeast in bread and helps strengthen the combined ingredients in baked goods and desserts.
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