The extra credit question on my first ever chemistry test in high school was, “what household object is the chemical compound NaCl?”
That’s right, it’s salt! Salt is a crystallized mineral composed mainly of sodium chloride. In the kitchen, cooks use salt to bring the flavor out in dishes, as well as to preserve food, particularly meat and fish. There are a variety of salts in the universe, many of which you can find in your local supermarket or gourmet cooking stores.
Today at the house of the family I babysit, the mother was trying to impress on me that I should invest in Fleur de Sel French Sea Salt from Williams and Sonoma, which she swears by. One inhalation and I realized how powerful salt other than Morton’s can be. Here is a guideline of different salts and their common uses.
Note: I am not including sour salt in this list because it is not actually salt—it is derived from citric acid of acidic fruits like lemons and oranges, and adds a zesty flavor to dishes.
Table Salt: The girl with the yellow dress and umbrella adorns the famous Morton table salt container, which contains Iodine, an essential element to your daily diet. This salt is most commonly found on tables to add flavor to dishes in a pinch. Be careful when cooking to see what kind of salt the recipe calls for. One teaspoon of table salt is very different from 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt, as it is much more concentrated and too much of it has the potential to ruin your dish.
Kosher Salt: Typically additive-free, this salt has a much larger grain size than table salt. The large flakey salt is typically used to remove blood from meats to make them Kosher, which is why it has its name. Kosher salt doesn’t permeate foods as easily because of its shape. My favorite use is for making a simple seasoning for grilled meat, like London broil.
Pickling Salt: Has the same fine-grained texture as table salt, but with no additives, which makes it useful in pickling foods.
Sea Salt: The salt distilled from seawater can be fine-grained or coarse. Because it comes from the ocean, it contains trace minerals, which some claim make it “healthier.” It has a distinct strong taste that differentiates it from table or kosher salt. Use when looking to liven up dishes with a flavor that makes people say, “I wonder what that ocean flavor is…”
Smoked Salt: The method of smoking salt over a wood flame imparts a strong, smokey flavor that makes it a great salt for hearty vegetables like potatoes and corn.
Himalayan Salt: This is believed to be one of the purest salts available because it is hand-mined from ancient sea salt deposits in Pakistan. It usually comes in a hard, slab form, from white to deep red, and retains its temperature for an extended period of time. You may recognize Himalayan salt from Iron Chef America, where it has been used as a base for cooking fish to impart a natural, salty flavor.
Flake Salt: This comes from evaporating brine, and produces crystals of varying shapes and sizes. It has lower trace minerals and additives than other salts, and is perfect for adding a delicate crunch to salads.