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Salt Varieties and Types

Choosing a type of salt depends upon the application

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Kosher salt, table salt, and sea salt

© 2008 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone

Salt Varieties and Types

Some types of salt have risen to gourmet status, along with a corresponding price tag. Processing methods and location of origin figure into pricing. Certain types of salt are better for some cooking or preserving methods.

Most common salt is mined from salt deposits left by salt lakes around the world. These lakes have dried up over the past millenia as the earth's surface has changed. Sea salt is distilled from the ocean, a more expensive process, resulting in a heftier price.

Here are the most common types of salt:

Table salt: This is the common salt normally found on every table. It is a fine-ground, refined rock salt with some additives to keep it free-flowing. Smaller particles mean more particles per measure and more surface area than coarser grinds. As such, use about half the amount if you are substituting for coarse salt.

Coarse salt: Coarse refers to the grind. The jagged edges and large crystals make this a good choice for sprinkling on pretzels or corn on the cob because the edges tend to cling and the salt does not readily melt.

Iodized salt: Salt which has iodine (sodium iodide) added. Iodine is a mineral necessary to the body to prevent hypothyroidism and some countries actually require iodine added by law. For those who live in areas away from oceans, iodized salt is an easy way to get this necessary nutrient into the diet. Surprisingly, iodized salt contains a small amount of sugar (usually indicated as dextrose in the ingredients listing), without which the salt would turn yellow due to oxidation of the iodine.

Kosher salt: This is a coarser grind of salt with large, irregular crystals. It contains no additives. Kosher dietary laws strictly require as much blood as possible be removed from meat before cooking. This coarse grind performs the job admirably. It is a favorite with not only Jewish cooks, but also professional and gourmet cooks who prefer its texture and brighter flavor. When substituting for table salt, you may need more to taste since it seems less salty. The size and shape of the crystals cannot permeate the food as easily as fine grades. Coarse pickling salt can be substituted.

Celtic salt: This is the expensive type. It is harvested via a 2,000 year-old method of solar evaporation from the waters of the Celtic Sea marshes in Brittany, France. Its flavor is described as mellow with a salty, yet slightly sweet taste. Even more expensive and rare is fleur de sel, from the salt marshes in Guerande, which is said to form only when the wind blows from the east.

Dairy salt: See pickling salt. It is used to pull moisture from cheeses to cure them.

Rock salt: Less refined and grayish in color, this is the chunky crystal salt used in ice cream machines. This type is generally not used as an edible flavoring mixed into foods, but in cooking methods such as to bake potatoes or to encrust or embed meat, seafood or poultry for baking. Rock salt makes an impressive bed for oysters on the half shell. When using rock salt for cooking, be sure it is food-grade. Some rock salt sold for ice cream machines is not suitable for cooking.

Pickling salt: This fine-grained salt has no additives and is generally used in brines to pickle foods. Unlike table salt, the lack of additives will help keep the pickling liquid from clouding.

Sea salt: Distilled from sea waters, this form can be fine or coarsely ground. This is a less expensive version of Celtic salt. Some consider sea salt nutritionally better than rock salt because it naturally contains trace minerals, but the difference is too minute to note. It does, however, have a stronger and more interesting flavor. Grey or gray salt is a sea salt.

Sour salt: Although it is not a salt, I include it here for clarity's sake. Sour salt is actually citric acid, extracted from citrus and other acidic fruits such as lemons, oranges, and pineapple. Also known as citric salt, it is used in some classic recipes such as borscht and also by some as a pseudo-salt substitute. It adds a zesty, tart flavor that can sometimes mask as a salty flavor in some dishes and gives a helpful psychological satisfaction of shaking on "salt." If it is not in the spice section of your market, check the kosher section.

Seasoned salt: Single or multiple herbs and spices are added to salt to make garlic salt, onion salt, and other mixes. If you are watching your salt intake, you are better off using the unsalted powdered or dried herbs and spices and controlling the salt as a separate ingredient. The main ingredient in seasoned salt is, after all, salt.

Popcorn salt: This super-fine grind (think of the texture of confectioners' sugar) of salt is generally colored yellowish-orange and is used on popcorn for both color and flavoring.

Colored salt: This is a relatively new product. Food coloring is added to salt as a novelty. It does not affect the flavor. One enterprising marketing tactic suggest using colored salt as a condiment on the table for those who wish to cut back on salt intake. The coloring makes it easier to see how much you apply.

More About Salt and Salt Recipes:

Salt Cooking Tips
Salt Varieties and Types
How much salt do you need? Salt Measure Guidelines
Salt History and Health
Salt Recipes
Salt Photo © 2008 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Cookbooks

Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference
The Contemporary Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices: Seasonings for the Global Kitchen
The Spice Lover's Guide to Herbs and Spices
Herb Mixtures & Spicy Blends
More Cookbooks

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