Sea Salt, Kosher Salt, Table Salt… salt from in the ground.. salt from the sea… iodized salt… pickling salt.. popcorn salt… rock salt… a dizzyingly array of choices… who knew?
Okay… I did know there were different types of salt… of course we always had table salt… we always had that Morton round blue box of iodized salt…. and my Dad always put rock salt down on the sidewalk in the winter… and I knew that soft pretzels and bagels had a different, coarser salt on them… but more than that?... I guess I never thought about it.
My Mother always used Table Salt in cooking, just as my Grandmothers had…
We used to watch cooking shows and peruse cookbooks and magazines for recipes together… and I can honestly say I do not recall ever coming across chefs using kosher or sea salt…. they may have.. but I don’t remember it.. and certainly we didn’t use it.
I few years ago I started noticing chefs on the Food Network talking about sea salt and kosher salt… and now it seems .. more often than not… they’re using them instead of table salt. So curiosity got the better of me and I went to investigate. I figured I would share…
Salt has always been a valuable commodity.... its mining and uses date back thousands of years. It was so valuable that in early Rome times, soldiers were paid with salt (and we complain about our pay today).. It has been used through the ages to preserve or cure meats and fish, as well as, seasoning foods.
As you may recall from your school days… salt is sodium chloride… all salt is sodium chloride plus additives… ultimately it comes from the sea. We mine for salt in the ground… which has been deposited there from ancient seas… or.. we mine it directly from the sea through an evaporation process.
Different types of salt are created by how they are refined … there are differences in taste and texture.
Table salt is refined salt. The granules are fine. It is primarily made up of sodium chloride, about 99%. Iodine can be added to make Iodized Table Salt, which was done for health reasons … for the prevention of hypothyroidism.
Sea salt can either be refined or coarse. As the name implies, it is taken from the sea and extracted by an evaporation process. Sea salt is made up of about 98% sodium chloride with trace minerals, such as iron, making up the additional 2%.
There is some debate about whether or not sea salt is more flavorful than Table Salt.
Coarse sea salt is often used when a salt crust is made on food.
Fine Sea Salt is pictured. Notice there isn't a lot of difference between Table Salt and fine Sea Salt... but Sea Salt is slightly coarser.
Kosher salt is a coarse, unrefined salt that doesn’t have additives. The name Kosher Salt implies that it somehow is related to Jewish food laws… which it is not.
Kosher salt has large crystals which give it larger surface areas that can absorb moisture better than other salts. This makes it excellent for curing meats. It is used in making Kosher meats. Kosher Salt does not have iodine added.
Kosher Salt dissolves more slowly than Sea Salt. It also tends to be cheaper than Sea Salt due to the differences in preparation process.
Popcorn and Nut Salt
Popcorn and Nut Salt is superfine and has flake like crystals that cling to every kernel. Popcorn salt comes in various flavors. There are numerous brands and they can be found both online and in stores.
Pretzel and Bagel Salt
This salt is a bright white large grained salt that will not melt easily. It is ideal for soft pretzels, salt bagels, focaccia and salted bread sticks. Numerous brands are available and can be purchased online or in stores.
The real differences between Table Salt, Sea Salt and Kosher Salt are in taste, texture and processing… and the fact that Kosher Salt does not have additives.
The texture differences are obvious and have obvious benefits with certain foods.
The processing differences we discussed and preferences are just that… preferences… up to each individual.
The taste differences are .. in my opinion… only slight. After having used both Kosher and Sea Salts myself… I can see advantages in using them instead of Table Salt in some cooking.
I do like using it when salting foods I’m grilling, roasting or forming a salt crust… I like the way the salt is coarser and randomly pops over the food rather than having the finer Table Salt stick to the entire surface…. but that too… is a personal preference.
If I’m adding salt to something like stew, Table Salt is fine… it really wouldn’t matter what I used, it will dissolve during the cooking process anyway.
Bottom line… probably a refined salt (Sea or Table) and a coarse salt (Kosher or Sea) will do the home cook fine. If you don’t care about additives or if you absolutely want them… will help you make the decision to choose between them.
As for the Popcorn, Nut and Pretzel Salts… I’d recommend them if you are making these foods.
While Table Salt will work on popcorn… the superfine texture of the specialty salts will definitely be better.
As for salt on Pretzels … Pretzel Salts are specifically processed for this purpose… they are compact crystals that may look like Kosher Salt but they are not… the compact crystals dissolve quicker in your mouth than the larger single crystal Kosher Salt and therefore will have a different taste…. they are also processed not to melt at higher temperatures and will stick better to the pretzels..
So if you intend to make pretzels… I’d recommend you splurge on the Pretzel Salt… if you look online you can find cheaper ones… but even the more expensive ones aren’t too bad.. in my opinion consider the amount of work you invest in making them.. why cheap out on the salt?
I hope I’ve helped take the mystery out of the different salts.
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