Get ready for salt, the world’s oldest seasoning. Millennia before your doctor was needling you about your sodium intake, these little white crystals were helping mankind’s food taste good, by both suppressing its bitter taste and bringing out the natural flavours and aromas on a molecular level.
But before you reach for that giant bag of soft powder, consider these different types of food salt you may have never heard of.
Ok, you’ve probably heard of this one, but maybe not where it comes from. Common table salt is usually mined from underground deposits (in contrast to sea salt, which is harvested from crystals left over after evaporating seawater). It has a uniform, saltshaker-powder consistency, making it inexpensive and easy to use in cooking.
A more subtle advantage of table salt is that it is often iodised – that is, infused with iodine, an essential mineral that is important for many of the body’s functions. Iodine deficiency is a an important global health issue that afflicts around 2 billion people worldwide. Salt to the rescue.
Sea salt comes from evaporated sea water. It tends to be courser or even flaky in texture. Its flavour is identical to table salt (although some argue that the residual minerals from unrefined sea salt change the flavour a bit). But where table salt fades into the background, sea salt stands out in texture and appearance, adding a bit of artisanal panache to the rim of your margarita.
Black sea salt (Hawaiian sea salt)
This deep black salt is made from evaporated pools formed on volcanic rock in Hawaii or Cyprus. The salt is infused with activated charcoal, giving it a distinctive mineral taste and deep, black colour. There are other types of “black” salt from other volcanic climes, but they aren’t always black.
Here is a guide to the sorts of dishes you can make with this dusky seasoning.
Pink Himalayan salt
This pink salt is mined from primordial deposits deep under the Himalayan mountains. Time and intense pressure has infused this salt with dozens of minerals, giving it a more distinctive and pronounced flavour than processed table salt or pure sea salt.
Himalayan salt also absorbs and retains heat, and you can cook food on large blocks of it, searing and seasoning the food at the same time and generally making you look super cool to your dinner guests.
Persian Blue Salt
A bit of a salt delicacy, this rare salt is harvested from saltwater lakes in a specific region of Iran. Like other unprocessed salts, it carries a distinct bouquet of minerals, but in this case the blue colour comes from its unique molecular structure. It has a slightly sweet taste and a truly novel aesthetic appeal.
Sel gris and fleur de sel
These course, grey salts are harvested from the waters off the coast of France in special, clay-lined pools. Their mineral composition makes them slightly briny, and slightly less salty, than ordinary table salt.
Sel gris (“grey salt”) is the chunky crystals that form and then sink to the bottom of the harvesting pool as the sea water evaporates, but a film of lighter, almost snow-like crystals forms on the surface, called fleur de sel (flower of salt).
Smoked salts have been literally smoked for days or even weeks over hickory, birch, oak, mesquite and other woods. This infuses them (the thus foods they are added to) with a distinct smoky aroma that can vary in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Try them on grilled or baked chicken, fish, bacon and hamburgers.