The type of salt you use can make a big impact on your cooking.
Our bodies need sodium to work properly—from transmitting nerve impulses to maintaining proper fluid balances. So out of our biological self-interest, we've developed a liking for salt.
Obviously too much isn’t good either, so don’t take this as an encouragement to start taking shots of salt. However, tequila shots with salt I can endorse. 😉
More important than being a flavor on its own, salt enhances other flavors. It makes food taste less bitter, sweeter, and more savory. It’s magical!
In my humble opinion, salt is the most important ingredient in the kitchen.
But with table salt, kosher salt, sea salt, pink salt, rock salt, Salt Lake City, Salt(starring Angelina Jolie), Veruca Salt, and more, how do we know what salt to use?
First things first. There is no big difference in how various types of salt taste. Some folks argue that iodized table salt has a metallic taste or certain colored salts have a more “complex” flavor 🧐. But even experts say that the difference is so minuscule after you add it to food, it is nearly impossible to differentiate.
But that doesn’t mean different types of salt are all the same. Besides how they are produced, the biggest differences in salt are density and shape.
Fun fact: Before this, I didn’t know how salt was made. While I’m oversimplifying this greatly, salt is mostly produced through varying types of evaporation. Some methods are quick and industrial—like boiling saltwater in a vat until you’re only left with salt. Then there is collecting salt from mines where the water evaporated naturally a long long long long long long long long long time ago. And other salts are produced more “naturally” and slowly—like waiting for ponds of saltwater to evaporate. Check out this article to learn more about Morton’s techniques for producing salt.
Now let’s get into the types of salt…
Table salt is more refined, extremely fine, and typically iodized. You’ll find it on most restaurant tables. And it usually includes an anti-caking additive that prevents it from clumping so it pours out easily. Lastly, table salt is a general-purpose salt that can be used in everyday cooking.
Fun fact #2: Salt was iodized back in the 1920s to help with thyroid problems and brain development.
Kosher salt gets its name because it is the type of salt used in the koshering process to extract blood from the meat. It is coarse and flaky—which makes it better at clinging to meat and drawing out its liquid. Overall, kosher salt is a great everyday, general cooking salt. How is it different from table salt you ask? In addition to being coarser and flakier, kosher salt doesn’t have any additives.
And it is often preferred by chefs. Why?
Picking up finer salt with your fingers is like trying to pick up sand! The flaky nature of kosher salt makes it easier to handle. You can pinch it with your fingers and hold on to it. It won’t slip through. This gives you more control. And more control means more even seasoning, especially on meats.
Sea salt is typically the least processed. And if you’re getting something fancy—like French fleur de sel (literally “flower of salt”)—more expensive too. Sea salt is harvested directly from saltwater ponds that evaporate leaving behind the salt (and possibly other minerals). And it can vary greatly from fine to coarse when it comes to size and texture.
Usually, fine sea salt is produced quickly in a more industrial manner. It’s great for your everyday cooking. Big, flaky, and more texturally interesting sea salts are your fancy-pants salts.👖 They aren’t worth cooking with. Instead, use them as a final garnish to give food a little extra burst of salty flavor and of course, crunch.
Colored salt like pink Himalayan salt or sel gris (“grey salt”) is typically unrefined because they include other minerals. Some argue that these salts have more health benefits and flavor because of those minerals.
Honestly? It doesn’t matter as much. It’s ultimately a matter of personal preference. What matters more is that you pick one type of salt and use it consistently.
When you go way back with a specific salt, you get to know each other. It knows about the time you went through that breakup with Loretta. It was there when you first picked up Teddy from the pound. And it remembers how hard it was for you to move from Bend to Boston. 😉
When you know a salt, you know how it impacts your food.
Because of the differences in size and density, each type of salt differs in saltiness. 1 teaspoon of table salt is not equal to 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. The finer and denser the salt, the more saltiness you can pack into a teaspoon. Even brands differ! 1 teaspoon of Diamond Crystal kosher salt is not equal to 1 teaspoon of Morton kosher salt.
The folks at Cooks Illustrated determined that 1 teaspoon of table salt is equal to:
These differences can make a big impact when following a recipe.
So what’s the surest way to know how much salt to add? From pasta water to a vinaigrette to a soup, taste your food along the way, even when following a recipe. It lets you adjust your seasoning on the fly to match the type of salt you’re using and your taste preferences. Oh! And remember you can always add salt, but taking it away is much more difficult—have you tried picking out the salt grains in a pasta sauce(!?!). So always start with less salt and taste before adding more.
Where I learned this: Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat, the Science of Good Cooking, and this article by J. Kenji López-Alt.