Sodium chloride, from now on referred to as just “salt,” is used in many industries, including cooking.
From a basic standpoint, salt makes things salty, draws out moisture, acts as a preservative and helps to elevate other flavours in a dish. But, of course, there is much more to it than that, and there are many different types of salt.
One thing that needs clearing up right away is the fact that all salt – table, kosher, sea – is sea salt. They are all products of the sea or ocean. The difference lies in whether the sea is above ground or underground.
Some salts are mined (usually table salt) and some are collected from the earth’s surface.
Is Sea Salt Healthier Than Table Salt?
Table salt is mined and refined to remove all trace elements whereas sea salt is processed but retains some trace elements. This is touted as the biggest benefit to using sea salt instead of table salt. However, the amounts are “trace”, or very little.
These minerals are indeed important for our health, but in sea salt they exist in what the Mayo Clinic describes as “insignificant amounts.” Chances are you are getting the same minerals in greater quantities in the fruits and vegetables that you eat.
Quite frankly, if you are eating enough sea salt to gain benefit from the trace elements, you are probably eating way too much salt.
You are better off choosing your salts based on their ideal uses.
Table salt, also known as “fine salt”, or “common salt” is most likely the type you use everyday. The crystals are very small and square, and it contains about 97-99% sodium chloride crystals. The other 1-3% are usually anti-caking agents like magnesium that prevent the salt from clumping together.
Another type of table salt is technically called “Fortified Salt”. The only real difference is that it is fortified with various minerals and chemicals. One popular choice is to add iodine.
Iodine was added to table salt to address concerns about iodine deficiency, which is still a huge medical concern in many parts of the world. Iodine deficiency can lead to thyroid gland problems.
Sometimes iron is added instead, to help boost user’s iron. Double fortified salt usually contains both iodine and iron.
- Most recipes that call for precisely measured salt (or that do not specify a specific type) require the use of table salt
- When a recipe calls for a “fine-textured” salt, table salt is fine to use
- Table salt (especially ones that are fortified or have anti-caking additives) should not be used when pickling. The additives will cause the brine to go cloudy and have an off taste
Kosher salt can be the most confusing. Surprisingly, kosher salt is not specifically made to be kosher in the religious sense, but it is often used to make things kosher. As opposed to the square crystals of table salt, kosher salt is larger and flatter. This helps the salt draw surface blood from meat, and make the meat kosher.
Kosher salt comes in a vast array of crystal sizes including: flat, chunky, coarse, and large.
- Kosher salt is recommended when precise measurement is not required
- It dissolves and disperses quickly
- It is ideal for seasoning to taste meat, vegetables, grains
- Kosher salt (with no additives) is fine to use when pickling
Sea salt is salt that is extracted from the sea, as opposed to being mined or otherwise manufactured. It is produced by drying the salty sea-water, which leaves behind salt deposits. Because of this, the chemical makeup of the salt can vary from product to product.
Normally, this kind of salt will still contain almost entirely sodium chloride, but will also contain other minerals like magnesium, calcium and sulphates.
There is a huge selection of sea salts on the market. They have varying colours and textures. Choosing a sea salt is very subjective as the flavours and texture vary. But, their uses are essentially the same as Kosher salt.
Finishing salt is not used in place of salt during the cooking process. Instead, it is added just before serving, like a garnish to boost the flavor of eggs, fish, meat, vegetables, chocolate, and caramel.
Some finishing salts can be extremely expensive and hard to find.
Pickling salt is identical to table salt, but it contains no iodine or anti-caking additives.
- Ideal for canning and pickling because of the lack of additives
- Can be used in place of table salt, but may clump together
- Sticks well to food, so would be ideal for things like popcorn
Curing salts are used as a preservative to limit or slow the growth of bacteria or fungus. It is usually a mixture of table salt and sodium nitrite.
- Primarily used in pickling and curing meats
- May contain dyes that make it look pink so that it is not confused with other types of salt (not to be confused with pink sea salt)
My pantry usually contains three salts; kosher, table, and larger sea salt. I use table salt during the cooking process and kosher or sea salt to season at the end.
Do you have a salt preference? Let us know.