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What Is Salt?
Scientifically speaking, salt is the chemical compound sodium chloride (NaCl), often seen as soft, granular grains, like table salt, or rough crystalline shards, like Maldon sea salt flakes. It’s the main mineral component in sea water, and one of the oldest seasonings and food preservation methods known to humankind.
What Is the Best Type of Salt for Cooking?
The best type of salt for cooking depends on what you’re using it for: finer, quick-dissolving salts like kosher salt and sea salt are best used for baking, seasoning, or preserving food, while larger flakes adds both texture and controlled pops of flavor as a finishing salt.
What Non-Culinary Uses Exist for Salt?
Everything you can do with salt in the kitchen is just the tip of the saline iceberg: historically, we used salt as currency and fuel for weaponry and warfare. These days, salt occupies a more pedestrian role, used for things like deicing freeways and manufacturing PVC pipe or plastics. It’s used to remove contaminants when making aluminum, or to make soap. Salt is responsible for the glaze on fired pottery, and it keeps holes from collapsing in walls. It’s a major component in the process of tanning hides. All in all, it’s one of the highest-used materials by volume all over the world.
What Are the Benefits of Salt?
Sodium through salt intake is a necessary component of life, especially for humans. Salt stimulates nerve impulses, and maintains a balance of electrolytes and fluid. Sodium ions are crucial to heart activity and some metabolic functions. Too much salt in a diet, however, can lead to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
Epsom salt, first discovered in the wells of Epsom, England, eases sore muscles and speeds recovery when added to a bath, but it is technically not a salt: it’s a crystal form of magnesium sulfate that looks very salt-like. Not for eating, please.
12 Popular Types of Salt
Different kinds of salt are varied and expressive, from basic, utilitarian canisters of the stuff to gourmet salts pulled from far-flung French corners of the sea and chilly inlets on the Oregon coast.
- Kosher salt: Kosher salt is the cooking salt of choice for most, thanks to its light but coarse texture and quick-dissolving versatility.
- Sea salt: Sea salt is a result of evaporated sea water. Though coarser than regular table salt, sea salt is considerably softer to the touch than kosher salt. Many salts can technically be classified as sea salt, ranging in brininess and texture depending on its origins.
- Rock salt: Also known as halite, rock salt is salt’s natural form.
- Fleur de sel: In the salt world, fleur de sel is the good stuff. Carefully hand-raked from the surface of tidal pools in Brittany, France, using special wooden rakes and only under perfect weather conditions, fleur de sel is a delicate and aromatic choice, especially when paired with nutty, buttery caramels.
- Table salt: Harvested from underground salt deposits, finely ground table salt is probably the most familiar to cooks and eaters. Most brands you’ll find are iodized (mostly to aid in iodine deficiency) with any trace minerals removed in the refining process and fortified with anticaking agents, so it won’t clump in humid environments.
- Flake salt: The dramatic, crunchy crystals of flake salt are best used as a finishing garnish, crowning grilled meats, roasted vegetables, and adding bursts of flavor to craggy slices of sourdough bread dipped in olive oil.
- Himalayan pink salt: Hand-harvested from the Khewra Salt Mine deep in the Himalayan Mountains of Pakistan, this salt is notable both for its blushing color—ranging from very faint to vivid pink—and its presence in health spas. Himalayan salt contains all 84 natural minerals found in the human body, and due to that rich mineral content, its flavor can be more intense or complex than the average kitchen salt. Slabs of it can hold heat for hours, making it a popular cooking stone for delicate proteins like fish.
- Black salt: Nepalese black salt is a riff on Himalayan pink salt, packed with a blend of herbs, whole spices, and charcoal and fired in a roaring furnace for an entire day before storage. The result is a blackened, reddish hue and a deeply smoky, almost sulfurous, flavor.
- Hawaiian salt: Hawaiian salt comes in both red and black colors. Black Hawaiian salt is a combination of volcanic sea salt and activated charcoal, while red Hawaiian salt is unrefined sea salt combined with red volcanic clay, making it rich in iron.
- Celtic sea salt: Also known as “sel gris,” Celtic gray salt is harvested from tidal eddies along the French coast. Unlike fleur de sel, which is combed from the surface of the salt water, sel gris is raked from the tidal floor. Its crystals are large and generally moist, with a strong, melodic briny flavor.
- Smoked salt: Smoked salt is salt that has spent a low, slow two weeks over burning wood, taking on the aromatic intensity of whichever wood that might be—whether hickory, applewood, or mesquite.
- Pickling salt: Pickling salt is a pickling purist’s dream: no iodine, no anticaking agents, and no potentially discoloring trace minerals. Nothing to get in the way of immaculate, perfectly seasoned pickles (learn more about pickling here).