Salt is a simple mineral essential to human life. Without it, we wouldn’t survive, and our food would be far less flavorful. Salt balances sweet, brings out the subtle flavors in fat, and generally makes everything from steak to caramel cupcakes that much better.
You might think that salting your food is as straightforward as grabbing a salt shaker and turning it upside down, but any experienced cook will tell you there’s more to salt than that. There are several types of salt, and each one is best in different situations.
Some are great for salting meats, others are better for brining, and still others make for a lovely presentation at the end of cooking.
So, if you call yourself a cook, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the many salt types, especially the ones listed below.
These are twelve salts that every cook should know.
Found in restaurant salt shakers around the globe, table salt, or sodium chloride, is perhaps the most widely used salt.
It comes from underground mines all over the world. Manufacturers then process it to remove impurities, creating its perfectly white color and straightforward salty flavor.
When manufacturers remove impurities, they also remove all minerals, which gets rid of any flavor complexities.
However, in the U.S., most table salt is fortified with iodine. Some chefs claim the iodine adds unwanted flavors. Table salt also contains anti-caking agents, which many cooks aim to avoid.
When ocean water evaporates, it leaves behind rich sea salt.
This type of salt is favored by many because it goes through minimal processing and therefore retains trace minerals like iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
These minerals provide flavor complexities that table salt lacks.
Sea salt is often sold in coarse form, so it has a crunchy mouthfeel. That makes it an excellent finishing salt on a wide range of dishes. Put it on salads, grilled meats, and baked treats just before serving for a delightful crunch.
Kosher salt isn’t blessed by a Rabbi or anything like that. Though you may have thought that was the case given its name.
Rather, kosher salt is ideal for drawing moisture out of meat, making it perfect for use in the koshering process.
Kosher salt is additive-free, unlike table salt, but it comes from the same place — underground salt mines. Many chefs prefer it because of its large crystal size.
The larger crystals draw out the moisture in meat but are also ideal for seasoning. You’re less likely to oversalt your food when using bigger crystals.
That said, the crystals, though always larger than table salt, vary in size from brand to brand. So, finding the exact type of kosher salt you prefer takes a bit of experimentation.
Fleur De Sel
Fleur de Sel is a French form of sea salt that comes mainly from the Brittany region.
The name, which translates to “Flower of Salt,” is particularly fitting. This is certainly a delicate type of salt.
Fleur de Sel collects on the surface of shallow saltwater pools inherent to its region of origin. The weather has to be perfect for this to occur, and there’s no mechanical method of harvesting.
Instead, Fleur de Sel relies on hand harvesting. All of this makes the salt rather expensive and rare.
Should you get your hands on it, you’ll want to use Fleur de Sel as a finishing salt. It’s wonderful on a large variety of dishes, including baked goods.
However, it dissolves quickly. So, to appreciate its tender, flaky texture, you should always salt just before serving your food.
Himalayan Pink Salt
Himalayan pink salt comes from areas near the Himalayan Mountains. That might lead you to believe it’s a rock salt, like table salt, but that’s not the case.
Instead, Himalayan pink salt comes from the dried saltwater deposits of ancient seas, making it a form of sea salt that’s nowhere near the ocean.
The pink color comes from trace minerals in the salt. These minerals imbibe the salt with slight earthy flavors.
Many believe the minerals also have health benefits, though researchers note the amount of minerals you’d get from salt are too minimal to have much effect.
Still, you’ll find this salt in many things outside of food, including mineral lamps and spa treatments.
Black Hawaiian Salt
Black Hawaiian salt gains its rich color from activated charcoal derived from coconut shells. It’s a type of sea salt that’s both striking and flavorful.
The charcoal adds an earthy flavor that compliments pork, scallops, and other native Hawaiian dishes. Meanwhile, its sharp flakes add a crunchy texture to the food.
And its interesting color adds visual complexity to each dish, making it a finishing salt you’ll find on plates in high-end restaurants.
Black Hawaiian salt also tends to find its way to the rim of cocktail glasses, where it can give a whole new flavor to traditional beverages.
You can create a very interesting lava flow or a Hawaiian version of a margarita with a dark salted rim.
As its name implies, flake salt is, of course, flakey.
Manufacturers create this form of salt using a mechanical process that compresses standard sea salt into flat flakes. That gives this salt a larger surface area and lower density.
The larger surface area and lower density allow flake salt to adhere better to food. It also dissolves faster than sea salt and blends more evenly into things like marinara sauce or rich aioli.
Flake salt is also “pinchable,” a trait that chefs adore as it gives them more seasoning control.
You can easily pinch a bit between your fingers and sprinkle the perfect amount over your food.
Celtic Sea Salt
Celtic Sea Salt is an unrefined version of sea salt that bears a gray tinge.
The gray comes from clay-lined salt beds in the Celtic Sea, just off France’s shore.
The mineral deposits in this salt cause it to retain moisture, and when you touch Celtic salt, it may feel moist.
Though Celtic Sea Salt is supposed to come from the Celtic Sea, it’s important to note that the term is unregulated, and many brands label their salt as “Celtic Sea Salt” but actually harvest their salt from elsewhere.
Regardless of where it comes from, you can expect Celtic Sea Salt to have a strong, flaky texture. This makes it ideal for finishing food. It also makes it a popular skin exfoliant.
Red Hawaiian Salt
Red Hawaiian Salt is also called Alaea salt and is traditional to Hawaiian cooking and culture.
This salt is a mixture of sea salt and volcanic clay. The clay has iron oxide deposits, giving Red Hawaiian Salt its bright hue and unique earthy flavor.
Alaea salt is common in traditional Hawaiian dishes like Kalua pork and poke, but it’s more than a food flavoring to Hawaiian natives.
Historically, Hawaiians used this salt to purify and bless their tools, canoes, temples, and houses.
Himalayan Black Salt
Sometimes called Indian Black Salt or Kala Namak, Himalayan Black Salt is traditional in Indian cooking and lends the pungent flavors inherent to popular foods like chaat masala.
This salt is native to the Himalayan region, just like Pink Himalayan salt. But, unlike the pink version, this salt is a rock salt, not a sea salt.
It can range in color from deep brown to dark violet, but you won’t see its stunning color in food very often. This is because it’s not typically a finishing salt and often dissolves into the dish you’re making.
Himalayan black salt has traces of sulfur, which give it its unique tangy flavor and strong scent.
Though it may smell a bit like rotten eggs, the flavor it adds to certain foods is delicious.
Pickling salt is sometimes called canning salt or preserving salt. It’s essential for canning or preserving certain foods like brined pickles or sauerkraut.
It’s pure granulated rock salt, much like typical table salt, but without any added anti-caking agents.
The anti-caking agents would turn brines and fermenting liquids gray, making them a bit unappetizing.
Pickling salt is less about adding flavor to food and more about preservation. It prevents harmful bacterial growth while, in the case of food like sauerkraut, allowing good bacteria to thrive.
Though kosher salt could easily accomplish the same purpose, pickling salt is best in canning applications. Its generally ground very fine and dissolves fast, making it ideal for use in brines and fermentations.
If you want your food to taste like it came straight off the grill or out of a smoker but don’t have the right equipment, smoked salt is the answer.
Smoked salt is regular rock salt that manufacturers infuse with smoky flavor using burning wood.
Manufacturers use all different types of wood, creating smoked salts in various forms. You can purchase hickory smoked salt, Alderwood salt, mesquite salt, and many others.
The salt sits with the burning wood for up to two weeks, and the longer it sits, the more smokey flavors it’ll bring to your food.
Use it on smoked meats, snack foods, and even desserts if you’re feeling adventurous!