They call me a kitchen princess because I brag about my salts.
Salt is an essential ingredient. It was once commonly used as currency, which is where we get the word salary. In pre-refrigerator times, it was an integral part of preserving foods. In hot climates it can save your life by replenishing vital electrolytes.
Truth is, all salt is not created equal. Basic kitchen salt is sodium chloride, but there is much more to the story of salt. Like most stories about food, it is a story about place, substance, and method. The chemical composition of salt depends on where it comes from, how it is harvested, and what minerals are abundant in that environment. This post is mostly about broad categories of types of salt, rather than salt producing locales.
This type of salt gets its name from its main role in koshering animal meat, which is a practice in Judaism (with very similar practices in Islam) of drawing out the blood of an animal. Kosher salt comes in large grains that do not dissolve quickly, hence it is more of a processing ingredient than a flavoring agent. Composition: sodium chloride.
Ever wonder about Morton’s famous slogan, “when it rains, it pours?” Common table salt is mixed with anti-caking agents to make it pour smoothly rather than clump up, as salt tends to do when exposed to even low levels of moisture. Table salt is also frequently iodized, a decision made in response to worldwide iodide deficiency. Composition: sodium chloride, iodide, magnesium.
Same as table salt but without the iodide and the anti-caking agents, which can collect as sediment in the bottom of a pickle jar. Pickling salt is fine to allow for easy dissolution in water. This is also my salt of choice for baking. Composition: sodium chloride.
Sea salt is, as the name implies, extracted from sea water. This process takes more time and therefore costs more than mining salt from the land. The chemical composition of such salt is quite diverse, depending on origin and harvesting methods. I stock several different types of sea salt from various locales, including the Mediterranean, Iceland, Ireland, the Dead Sea, and the Eastern Coast of the United States.
Fleur de Sel
The reigning queen of all salts, fleur de sel is literally the cream of the crop when it comes to sea salt. Extracted in shoreside salt pans, fleur de sel is the very top layer of salt that forms under hot and dry conditions such as those found on the sunny coasts of the Mediterranean. The taste is delicate and it immediately melts in your mouth, making it the best choice for topping off a tantalizing dish. The designation fleur de sel is more about how it is harvested rather than where it comes from. Composition: sodium chloride, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, maganese, among others.
Sel gris (grey salt) is extracted from the very same marine salt pans used to extract fleur de sel. If fleur de sel makes up 10% of that process, sel gris accounts for the other 90%. It has a relatively high moisture content and its diverse composition makes its flavor subtle and complex. Composition: sodium chloride, calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, among others.
Special production techniques give this salt a rather ornamental, gem-like appearance. Flake salt is more translucent than white, and makes for a great decorative salt for chocolate truffles or for finishing off a display of colorful appetizers.
Black Lava Salt
Black lava salt gets its color from volcanic charcoal. Notable producers are the volcanic islands of Hawaii and Iceland. The taste is not very different from other types of salt, but the black appearance can provide visual appeal.
Red Lava Salt
Very similar to black lava salt, red lava salt gets its color from volcanic clay. It is rich in iron oxide (rusty salt, anyone?) and a variety of other minerals.
Famously produced in the Himalayas and in the Andes, pink salt gets a lot of attention, well, for being pink. The pink color varies and comes from trace impurities in the salt. Coarse pink salt will form perfectly translucent pearls after cooking, provided you don’t dissolve it in liquid.
That’s not all, folks
You may notice other types of salt or other brands of salt, and from here it’s mostly a matter of marketing. We didn’t even touch on flavored salts. I think those are pretty self-explanatory, don’t you? Now that you know about the broad categories of salt, you can go make better, more informed decisions. By the way, salt makes a great gift. There is powerful symbolism behind a gift of salt, and considering that each salt is a story, it is a gift that one will remember. Especially a kitchen witch.