Salt is one of the most important ingredients in any dish. Unfortunately, most of us take salt for granted. What we don’t realize is that it can either highlight or suppress the various flavors that we perceive in the dishes that we eat. Salt can enhance the natural sweetness and sourness of food while enhancing its umami taste. It can also curb the bitterness of certain foods while reducing the sweetness in meat and savory dishes. In short, salt can elevate our dining experiences by balancing the different flavors present in food. However, did you know that there are so many different types of salt that can impart different flavor profiles in our food? In this guide, we will explore these types to learn which type of salt is best for which dish.
This type of salt has got to be the most versatile of all. It is both an ingredient and a seasoning in many dishes, including baked goodies. Many countries add iodine to ordinary table salt to help address iodine deficiency in the population. Producers often add anti-caking agents to help prevent clumping. This allows the individual granules of table salt to flow from your salt shaker with relative ease. While most of us use table salt in many of our dishes, very few know that it is also useful in baking. It reacts well with gluten to make sure that the dough achieves its desired elasticity. The fine crystals also make table salt very easy to dissolve, so you do not get that grainy, salty texture in your bread.
When you talk about kosher salt, it is inevitable that you will think of it as having Jewish origins. This might be true but kosher salt has long transcended regional boundaries to become one of the most versatile culinary salts in the world. This salty ingredient is perfect not only for cooking and baking. It is also ideal for curing, finishing, and seasoning. It has a flavor profile that is lighter and cleaner than your ordinary table salt. It also features larger crystals, allowing chefs and cooks to pick it up with ease. This characteristic also makes it ideal for making seasoning blends and spice rubs. Its slow-melting, crunchy, and briny characteristics also give kosher salt a more interesting flavor profile.
Producing sea salt requires the evaporation of seawater in salt beds. As the seawater evaporates, it leaves behind salt crystals. Workers then gather these crystals and pack them into bags. Well, this is the rudimentary way of doing it. Hence, the flavor profile of this salt depends on where it is harvested. Different regions will have different flavor profiles because of differences in trace elements found in the salt. Sea salt can also take different forms. Some are flaky while others are fine crystals, like table salt. There are also those that have large crystals like kosher salt and may have varying colors. Because of its variable characteristics, it is best to use sea salt as a condiment or a garnish.
Hawaiian islanders often use this type of salt for ritual purposes – blessing their canoes, tools, and homes. However, this ingredient is now a mainstay in many Pacific Islander dishes. It is perfect for barbecue meats as well as a finishing touch to traditional dishes. It is one of the most preferred salts when it comes to seafood as well as island dishes like Pipikaula and Poke. The grains are rather coarse and they come with a little briny flavor. This is one salt you do not want to use in baking. There are two types of Hawaiian salt: the Alaea and the Lava salt. The former has a mild flavor and a characteristic red color. The addition of alaea clay to sea salt give it its reddish color. Hawaiian Lava salt contains charcoal, giving it a dark-grayish to blackish color. This type of salt also has a hint of sulfur to it. Hence, you may want to go easy with the use of Hawaiian Black Lava Salt.
Fleur de Sel
One of the most famous sea salts, Fleur de Sel comes from the Brittany coast in France. Connoisseurs call it the “caviar of salts” because it happens to be one of the most expensive on the market. This is understandable because its production is only possible from May to September. This sea salt has very delicate crystals that are as thin as paper. Fleur de Sel has a bluish-gray tint and a light briny flavor. It is ideal for finishing baked goodies, especially the sweet ones like caramel and chocolate. Savory dishes of meats and seafood can also benefit from a finishing touch of Fleur de Sel. Its sodium content is lower than that of ordinary table salt. However, it has a higher content of other trace minerals. There is an Italian version of the Fleur de Sel. The Fiore di Cervia is less briny and contains fewer trace minerals than its French counterpart.
Another French sea salt like the Fleur de Sel, Sel Gris comes from the shores of France. The difference from Fleur de Sel is in the method of harvesting the salt. Harvesters employ traditional Celtic techniques that result in a salt that is moister than other types. It has a gray hue plus a strong briny taste. The reason for this is that workers harvest the bottom of the salt pan. In Fleur de Sel, they harvest the top. This means that the salt mixes with minerals at the bottom, giving it its characteristic flavor profile. Sel Gris is great for cooking meats and seafood, although you can also serve it as a condiment. If Fleur de Sel is perfect for baked goods, Sel Gris isn’t. The good thing about Sel Gris is that producers can grind it to a powdery consistency. They call it Sel Gris Velvet. When you taste it, this velvety rendition is like butter that melts on the tongue.
Some of us know Himalayan salt as a mainstay in many spa treatments. This is because it boasts of more than 84 minerals that are also present in the human body. It is the world’s purest salt and can only come from the mines of Pakistan’s Khewra Salt Mine. This salt has a vibrant pink color and comes with traces of ivory and iron ore. Because of its complex mineral content, Himalayan salt has a very big and bold flavor profile. Its heat tolerance is also remarkable, making it ideal for dishes that require intense heat. One thing most people may not know is that the Himalayan salt can also be a great addition to baked goodies. Its mineral-rich flavors can provide a very interesting taste to the usual sweetness of baked items.
Some people recognize Kala Namak as the Himalayan Black Salt. However, a closer examination of its contents reveals that Himalayan salt is only one of Kala Namak’s ingredients. This salt is part-Himalayan salt and part-seeds, herbs, bark, and charcoal. The Nepalese are famous for making this type of salt. They mix the ingredients and put them in large ceramic jars. For 24 hours, the jars are fired in a furnace before cooling it down. Once cooled, the jars get stored and Kala Namak allowed to age. Because of this aging process, Kala Namak tends to be pungent. However, its beautiful reddish-black hue is something that has always attracted connoisseurs to this type of salt. Kala Namak has a hint of sulfur in its aroma; albeit faint. Its principal use is only for cooking hearty dishes. Because of its egg-like sulfuric aroma, it’s ideal for vegan dishes.
When it comes to dishes that call for a more robust smoky flavor, this type of salt is the one to grab. As the name implies, it comes with a very distinct smoky aroma and flavor that should be very interesting to your grilled meats, seafood, and vegetables. It is a sea salt, but one that undergoes a very unique kind of processing. Instead of the usual storage, producers of smoked salt put sea salt in large vats. These are then slow-smoked for up to 14 days. Producers also use a variety of wood for making the fire. Most use hickory because it can impart a certain aroma and flavor that resembles smoked ham. Others use apple, oak, mesquite, or alder. Because of the different types of wood that producers use, you can expect smoked salt to come in different “flavors”, too. Not only that, the length of time the salt is smoked can also affect the intensity of its flavors. For instance, a 2-week smoked salt will have more intense flavors than one that’s smoked only for about a week.
There are other types of salts that we may not have covered in this guide. Suffice it to say, this list should already help you decide which of the dizzying array of salts to get from your grocery the next time you shop.