HomeSpiritThe Art of Salt – Sea Salts 101
10.26.12

gourmet salts

I recently visited my parents and found my mom still using iodized table salt. After I pulled my-mortified-self together I went about the business of explaining how table salt is what’s left once all minerals are stripped and replaced with a bevy of synthetic chemicals (like toxic amounts of potassium iodide, aluminum derivatives, bleach & shockingly more).

Aside from the health implications, the most convincing argument is taste! I mean why would we choose table salt when there are so many tasty, mineral packed, exotic options out there?! For my mom’s benefit (and yours if you’re open to trying interesting flavors) I decided to post about the varieties in the world of salts. Adding the right one (be it gourmet or Trader Joe’s) can make cooking an enchanting experiment and turn a meal into art.

The Basics

varieties of mineral salt

Finishing salt is a distinctive salts that adds something special when sprinkled on food after it is prepared. By using less salt–or none at all–while cooking, then finishing with a salt that works best with the food you are eating, you bring the salt crystals and the food into much more intimate contact with your palate. The result is a radical improvement in the flavors and aromas of your food, not to mention textures and appearances. Some finishing salts can also be used as cooking salts. A good finishing salt has unique mineral, moisture, and crystal qualities that play off your food to create more flavor, better texture, and new beauty.

Gourmet salts have crystal, mineral, moisture, aesthetic, and even aromatic qualities that make using them part of the creative process of cooking. In the loosest definition, gourmet salt is a term for any salt that is not refined sodium chloride kosher salt, table salt (with or without additives). There is an irony in the term gourmet salt because prior to the industrialization of salt production in the mid 1850s, there was no salt that did not have special crystal, mineral, moisture, and aesthetic qualities.

Artisan salts are salts that are made by hand, usually using traditional methods. The production requires the labor of a skilled worker and specific knowledge of the resources, conditions, and methods for making a salt that has specific qualities that make it great for using on certain types of food. Anything coming out of machines that are largely automated is not artisan.

The Stand Outs

varieties of sea salt

Fleur de Sel – Delicate, granular crystals with a touch of moister and a mild saltiness. Sprinkle it on subtler foods like fish, poultry, cooked veggies, fleur de sel caramels, eggs, or bread and butter. Or use as the ultimate cooking salt. Fleur de sel is the most versatile of sea salts.

Sel Gris (Gray Salt) – Hefty, moist crystals with a minerally saltiness. The perfect finishing salt for steaks, lamb, hearty vegetables. Also the ultimate cooking salt, for pasta water, grilling meats, ground up for baking, or for salt crusts. Because they’re great cooking salts, buy sel gris in large quantities and throw away your table salt!

sel gris

Flake Salt – Dry, flakey crystals reminiscent of snowflakes with a bright, sparkly saltiness. Sprinkle these salt flakes over salads and fresh veggies, or added to dish for a salty contrast, extra beauty and crunch. A little flake salt goes a long way. Seawaters are evaporated using the natural processes of sun and wind, producing salt brine that is fed into an open evaporating pan. The brine is then slowly heated to the point where delicate pyramid-shaped crystals of salt appear. The finished product is light, flaky sea salt.

flaky salt

Himalayan Pink Rock Salt (My Personal Favorite and salt of choice) – Himalayan Pink Salt is a pure, hand-mined rock salt from the Potwar Plateau of the Punjab region of Pakistan and has been mined in this region for at least two millennia, since Alexander the Great invaded the region with his great army. Himalayan pink salt ranges from 97-99% sodium chloride, and significant trace minerals include magnesium, potassium, iron, sulfur, and calcium. Coarse Himalayan sea salt is dry and ranges in color from white to blood-red. It’s perfect for using in a salt mill and makes an excellent cooking salt. ,. Inside the mfamous Khewra salt mine (the world’s second largest) there are many salt structures, including a mosque and a model of the Great Wall of China. Himalayan sea salt was formed after an ancient ocean dried up about 600 million years ago, in an ancient era before life as we know it today had appeared on earth. Himalayan salt is known for its healing properties and is used by health professionals, spas and individuals who are interested in utilizing natural products to heal the body and relax the mind. Stimulating circulation, lowering blood pressure and removing toxins such as heavy metals from the body are just a few of the many benefits of Himalayan Salt.

Himalayan Pink Salt

Indian Black Salt or Kala Namak – Also called Nirav Black Salt or Sanchal, it is a special unrefined mineral salt from Darjeeling, India. The finishing salt is a volcanic rock salt mined in central India. The ground salt has a strong, sulfuric flavor and smell. These colors come from the presence of trace minerals such as magnesium, as well as volcanic iron. Kala Namak is used in Indian cuisine as a condiment, most commonly with snack foods like chaats (fruit glazes), chutneys, raitas (yogurt and cucumbers mixes), fruit salads, and savory deep-fried snacks. While this unique quality is often diffused when cooked, it nonetheless adds a special taste of eggs. In India, Kala Namak is recommended for people with high blood pressure and to people who are on low-salt diets, because it is lower in sodium and supposedly does not increase sodium content in the blood.

KalaNamak Indian Salt

Smoked Salt – Fine sea salt or fleur de sel that is cold-smoked with a hardwood such as oak, hickory, applewood, or alder. After smoking, the sea salt acquires a smoky scent and woodsy color. Wonderful as a finishing salt adding smoky-rich aromas and flavors to everything from popcorn to salmon to chocolate mouse.

Smoked Salt DIY

* Click the image above for a fantastic smoked salt DIY *

The Standards

SALT

Coarse Sea Salt – Coarse salt is made up of large-grained salt crystals. Most coarse salts are best used in a grinder, providing an easy way of serving up freshly ground sea salt with all of your meals. Coarse salt tends to be less moisture sensitive than its finer-grained counterparts, so it resists caking and is easily stored. Use coarse salt to grind over any dish, create a salt crust on meat or fish, and to flavor soups, stews and pasta.

Organic Salt - As of yet, in the United States, the USDA does not recognize salt as an item that can be certified as organic as it contains no carbon compounds. Although salt is not certified organic in the U.S. by the same standards as botanicals, agriculture or livestock, there are at least three organizations that have set up rigorous guidelines for the production of salt in their respective countries. These standards include ensuring the purity of the water, cleanliness of the salt beds and strict procedures on how the salt is harvested and packaged. These certifications that place their stamp of approval on organic salts consist of:
Nature & Progres (France)
Bio-Gro (New Zealand)
Soil Association Certified (Wales)

kosher salt

Kosher Salt - Kosher salt can refer to two types of salt: One is a specific shaped flake salt that is so named for its use in the preparation of meat according to the requirements of Jewish dietary guidelines. It contains fewer additives, and has a cleaner and more even taste than ordinary table salt. The flakes dissolve easily, and have a less pungent flavor than processed table salt. Due to the shape of the granules, there is simply less salt in a pinch of kosher salt than in a pinch of table salt. This is the kind of salt most often used on top of pretzels and on the rims of margarita glasses. It is important to note that all Kosher salt is not necessarily sea salt. The second type of Kosher salt is a salt that has been certified as Kosher by a prestigious organization or certifying body such as the Orthodox Union, or OU. This means that the salt has met the guidelines of kosher outlined by Jewish law, and upheld by kosher certification agencies and members of the Jewish Faith. The certification ensures that the product is produced and handled in accordance to these high standards, and is suitable for consumption for those following a kosher diet.

Find these salts and many more at Salt Works and At The Meadow.

2 Comments

  • Lena says:

    Y U M! John and I have a little bowl of very course salt on our counter, and I can’t stop myself from dipping into it whenever we cook!

  • Anna @ IHOD says:

    So glad I read this. We use sea salt but didn’t realize all the options out there! Thank you dear for sharing!

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