The Many Types of Salt And Their Uses
There are hundreds of salt varieties, all from different regions across the world. Salt is more than just table salt. And grocery stores only offer a small selection of mass-produced salts. There are many shops and online shops (our favorite online source is The Meadow) that specialize in the full array of salts, pink salt being just one of many.
All salts are composed primarily of sodium chloride. Salt comes from two sources, the sea or the earth. Most salts are sea salts, which are obtained through evaporation of sea water. Those salts that are harvested from salt mines are less commonly used for consumption. Natural, unrefined salts that have come in contact with different minerals can have a tinge of color, like pink. Available in both fine and coarse crystals, each salt has a best use.
An Abridged Guide To Salts:
Table salt is the most common salt. It is refined and sometimes includes iodine, which is added to prevent iodine deficiency. It's used in cooking as well as flavoring meals at the table. The crystals are fine and flow freely due to the addition of an anti-caking agent.
Kosher salt, originally designed to be used in koshering meats (to draw out blood), is preferred by chefs and home cooks. Kosher salt is free of additives and is machine-produced to have coarse flat flakes, larger than table salt. It's typically not used for baking because it doesn't dissolve as easily in batters (use table salt for baking). Typically twice as much Kosher salt can be substituted for table salt.
Fleur de sel (flower of salt) is hand harvested in France off the coast of Brittany. The salt is moist and naturally flaked and randomly sized. It's collected from the top layer of sea salt pans, making it a very exclusive and expensive salt. Fleur de sel is used as a finishing salt because it melts rapidly.
Sel gris (gray salt) is the salt that is harvested from just below fleur de sel. It's gray due to its contact with minerals in the water. Sel gris can be used both as a cooking and finishing salt. Similar salts are also harvested from other locations around the world, not just France.
Pink salt can be found in both Hawaii and the Himalayas. In Hawaii it is called Alea salt. Its pink color is due to Hawaiian clay, which comes in contact with the salt during harvesting. The salt comes in both fine and coarse. In Hawaii it's used for ceremonial purposes as well as cooking, seasoning, and preserving foods. Himalayan salt is harvested from salt mines. It can be used in cooking as well as a bath salt. Blocks of it are sometimes used for displaying foods in restaurants.
Black salt can be found in Hawaii and India (where it is called Kala Namak). The salt is black from being in contact with volcanic charcoal, which is believed to offer a detoxifying effect. The Indian black salt is very pungent smelling because it also contains sulfur. Black salt is typically used for finishing or medicinal purposes.
Flavored salts are any type of regular salt that is blended with herbs or other flavorings (look for salts flavored with rosemary or citrus).
Smoked salts are literally salts that are smoked with wood. Used wine barrels are sometimes used for smoking salts, lending a Cabernet or Chardonnay flavor. Stay away from lower grade smoked salts, which are typically artificially flavored. These salts are wonderful for adding a unique finish to dishes.
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