Salt is just as important on a delicate caramel as it is on a thick steak. Salt does more than improve flavor, it intensifies it. Salt reduces bitterness, enhances sweetness, and provides balance to any dish. Finding the best type of salt for cooking can take your dish to the next level.
Just as bakers have several kinds of flours in their arsenals, cooks should have several kinds of salts in theirs. Chemically, all salts are the same: a compound of sodium and chloride. Gastronomically, salts can be very different. What distinguishes one from another are texture, shape, and mineral content—qualities that affect how a salt tastes as well as how a pinch interacts with the food you’re cooking.
Watch the Video: How to Season to Taste
Here are twelve common salts that every cook should know:
Rock salt can be mined all over the earth. Most commercially available rock salt is refined, and needs to be ground. If you’re planning to cook with it, make sure to purchase food grade salt, not the stuff that they spread on the road in the winter. Cooking with rock salt can give food a distinctive taste because of its mineral content.
Table salt is the most common type of salt found in American kitchens. It comes plain or iodized, but the addition of iodine can impart a slightly bitter aftertaste. These tiny uniform crystals pour smoothly and dissolve easily because of anti-caking agents, making it a go-to for savory sauces and sweet treats.
When to use it: Filling the shaker, making sauces or dressings, baking
This coarse, flaky salt was originally used for koshering meat because the multi-faceted crystals cling well to damp surfaces. This salt dissolves easily, and its flavor disperses quickly. It’s widely available, and home cooks use it on everything from pork roast to popcorn. If you’re using kosher salt to bake, be aware that the large crystals take up more space than the tiny grains or table salt. If you’re measuring by volume, that means that a teaspoon of kosher salt isn’t nearly as salty as a teaspoon of table salt.
When to use it: Seasoning meat and vegetables and filling your salt cellar
Try using this large-grained salt in a grinder, similar to a pepper mill. This is an easy way to serve 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.
When to use it: Grind over any dish for a freshly ground salt flavor or create a salt crust on meat
The soft, flaky texture of sea salt crystals is a product of seawater evaporation. The process is slow and expensive, so customers pay a premium for this stuff. Though the shapes of the flakes are large and irregular, the flavor remains mild, clean, and consistent. Sea salt doesn’t have any of the bitterness that some table salts do.
When to use it: Sprinkle on top of finished dishes to enhance the natural flavors and add a delicate crunch
Truffle salt is a flavored salt made from mixing traditional sea salts with dried pieces of black or white truffle. Good truffle salts are intensely aromatic, and should be full of big truffle flavor. Truffle salt isn’t for cooking. It should be sprinkled on a finished dish to add an extra punch of flavor. When to use it: Sprinkle on top of finished dishes like popcorn, french fries, and even scrambled eggs.
Fleur de Sel
Fluer de sel is a type of sea salt that forms naturally on the surface of saltwater as it evaporates. This salt has been harvested for centuries. It gets its name from the flower-like appearance of the crystals that it forms. Fleur de sel is harvested directly from the sea without being refined. It’s rich in natural minerals, and will bring a lot more mineral flavor and character than a purified table salt. Use Fluer de sel as a finishing salt on roasted vegetables to appreciate its natural complexity. When to use it: Sprinkle on top of finished dishes like seared fish or roasted vegetables.
Himalayan salt is mined in Pakistan. It’s known for its pink color, which is caused by naturally occurring minerals. Himalayan salt can be used in cooking, or as a finishing salt. When to use it: Use in cooking or as a finishing salt.
Maldon salt is harvested in the UK, in the town of Maldon. It’s known for its shape. Each salt crystal is a small pyramid. Maldon salt is delightfully crunchy. It should be used as a finishing salt; sprinkled on finished dishes to add flavor and texture. Maldon salt is a great choice for sprinkling on brownies or cookies for a sweet and salty treat. When to use it: Use as a finishing salt for sweet or savory dishes.
Red salt is also known as Alaea salt or Hawaiian red salt. This salt gets its red color from iron rich volcanic clay. This salt is popular in Hawaiian cooking, where it is used in traditional dishes like kalua pork and poke. When to use it: Use Hawaiian-inspired dishes, or to add a pop of color to finished dishes.
Naturally occurring black salt, also known Kala namak, or black Himalayan salt, is mined in India and Pakistan. Its black color comes from naturally occurring minerals. Black salt also contains a small amount of sulfur, which creates a pungent smell and taste. Because of its complex flavor, black salt can be great for vegan cooking. When cooking with black salt, be aware that a small pinch goes a long way. When to use it: Use in vegan cooking, or on mild foods like potatoes and popcorn.
Smoked Gray Sea Salt
This exciting gourmet salt adds a unique smoky flavor to savory dishes. When shopping for smoked sea salt, make sure to find one that’s naturally smoked and doesn’t use liquid smoke for flavoring. Traditional cold smoking adds a sophisticatedly subtle pungency that enhances fish, meat and poultry.
When to use it: When grilling, oven roasting, cooking salmon, making marinades, serving lentil soup, or sprinkling over popcorn or nuts