The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.
Isak Dinesen said this some time ago, reflecting that salt is an indispensable currency of the body, emotions and the natural world. Salt has been used since time immemorial for flavour and preservative. Salt is a rainbow-hued mineral, coming in technicolored hues from pink to white, gray and black. What are the differences and how do we choose?
Sea salt is the generic term for unrefined salt harvested from the sea or ocean, such as the North Sea, Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, particularly on the coast of Brittany, France. It retains much of the inherent minerals (iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc and iodine) from the source. These residual minerals is what gives different sea salts their unique flavour and colour. Specific types of sea salt include coarse gray Celtic sel gris from the bottom of salt marshes of Brittany, delicate Fleur de sel from the top of salt marshes of Brittany, and flaky Maldon salt produced from Essex, England. Many sea salts are artisan and hand-harvested by skilled craftsmen. Using these types of salts as as finish make you feel intimately connected to the place and person who made it.
Rock salts are mined from pure salt deposits that lie high in the mountains, such as the Himalayas. The most common is the Himalayan pink salt. Rock salts are unrefined and contain the full spectrum of natural minerals and trace elements just like Mother Earth intended. Due to rampant pollution of the oceans, most of today’s sea salt is not as pure as it used to be. Himalayan salt on the other hand tends to be of higher purity. Because they are mined rather than evaporated, rock salt crystals are substantial and contribute a definite ‘crunch’ to dishes on which they are used.
Kala namak or Indian black salt is a type of Himalayan volcanic rock salt. It is unique for being its high sulfur content and pungent smell, and often used to mimic the taste of eggs in vegan cooking.
Kosher salt takes its name for its use in the koshering or ‘cleaning’ process in Jewish rites, and is used in certain recipes for its consistency. In the koshering process, salt of a certain grain size must be used to draw out blood; table salt is too thin and will dissolve into the meat while salt that is too coarse will roll off. Kosher salt is slightly coarser than table salt and is “just right” for koshering meat. It contains no preservatives, iodine or anti-caking agent and can be a sea salt or rock salt.
Table salt is refined and stripped away from its minerals and elements to become stark white and uniform. It contains up to 99.9 percent sodium chloride, and the remaining percentage is made up of anti-caking agents and sometimes iodine. Iodine was first added to table salt by the U.S. government in the 1920s as a measure against the high incidence of thyroid disease due to thyroid deficiency. It remains in salt as a preventive measure today, although we can get enough iodine from sea vegetables and vegetables grown in iodine-rich soil. It is almost always used as a cooking salt, although I personally avoid table salt.
Flavoured or Infused salts
Flavoured salts are those that have been infused with an aroma such as truffle, vanilla and flowers, or blended with seasonings such as herbs, spices and citrus. These blends can be made in small batches at home and used as finishing salts.« Back to Glossary Index