“Salt is what makes things taste bad when it isn’t in them.”
I have a bit of a salt obsession (it would definitely make my list of three items to bring to a deserted island) and occasionally I get asked if I’m concerned about watching my sodium levels. In short, no. For two reasons: First, I get regular physicals and there isn’t any sign that I’m overdoing it. Second, studies have shown that the real problem with salt intake comes not from the salt we add to season our food, but from consuming processed foods that are LOADED with sodium.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed experimenting with different varieties of salt in my cooking. There are so many kinds to choose from that at first I found it can feel a little overwhelming. In general, salt falls under one of three categories: basic table salt, sea salt, and rock salt. Here’s a quick guide that covers everything you wanted to know about salt, including how to choose and use different varieties.
I’ll start with the worst of the lot. Table salt is the most basic of salts and also the most refined version, one of several reasons that it has earned a spot in last place on my list. After it is mined, it is stripped of all trace minerals so that only sodium and chloride remain. This not only diminishes the nutrient content but also degrades the flavor which means you are likely to use more of it. In other words, table salt has more sodium with less flavor than other more natural varieties (below). As if this weren’t enough of a deterrent, consider the chemical additives it contains to prevent drying and caking-no thank you (1).
You’ll find this in regular or iodized forms, the latter of which has been sprayed with iodine (this came as a result of a governmental policy to boost iodine intake that was instated during the Great Depression when there was a high percentage of people with an iodine deficiency) (2). You can get the iodine you need by eating a balanced diet that includes some/all of these foods so most people don’t require supplementation.
There are several varieties you will find in this category; I’ve listed two of the more popular ones below. Sea salt is the general term for salt extracted from the ocean and because it is traditionally unrefined, there are higher quantities of trace minerals like zinc, potassium, manganese, calcium, magnesium, iodine and iron (1). Not only do you get more bang for your buck health-wise, but these minerals add wonderful balance to your food so you will find you need to use less.
How to use:
I use this to season food while cooking and add it to everything from salads to dessert.
What to avoid:
As with any food you are purchasing, make sure to check the source because some manufacturers have started slapping the “sea salt” label onto highly refined versions of the real thing. Also, ocean pollution is unfortunately a necessary consideration in today’s world so you want to make sure you are sourcing from a reputable purveyor. Avoid using sea salt in your salt mill; since it retains a lot of moisture it tends to jam things up.
Popular Sea Salts
This literally translates to “flower of salt” and is considered by many to be the Rolls-Royce of salts. It is collected once a year in summer in the Guerande region of France and its harvesting involves a very specific method whereby only the young salt crystals are gathered. Fancyshmancy. This is typically used more as a finishing salt. (Find it here.)
-Celtic Sea Salt
Harvested in France where it is also known as sel gris (grey salt), this is another good option for regular use as it’s high in minerals, naturally lower in sodium chloride, and unprocessed. This is one of the most nutritious salts and nutrition experts often recommend it because of its many health-boosting effects. (Find it here.)
Certified Kosher salt refers to salt that has met the guidelines for certification by Jewish certification agencies. It is a larger and lighter flaked salt that many chefs like to keep in a bowl by the stove because it’s easier to handle than other salts.
How to use:
Great for salting pasta water, the salt rim on margaritas or for whole fish baked in salt (just make sure to look for “additive-free kosher salt”) (4).
What to avoid:
Avoid using kosher salt in baking or use a conversion chart. Since the flakes are larger, a pinch of kosher salt is not the same as a pinch of table salt (which is what most recipes are basing their measurements off of). (Find my favorite real kosher salt here.)
Sometimes referred to as “pink gold,” this 250 million year old salt is extracted from the Khewra region of Pakistan and some experts in the holistic health community claim it’s about the purest stuff you can get; specifically, they point to the fact that it contains 84 trace elements and say its consumption is associated with numerous health benefits such as supporting bone and sinus health, helping regulate blood sugar and the pH balance in your cells and even boosting libido and sleep quality (2+3). It’s completely unprocessed and contains no environmental pollutants. As if that weren’t enough, it’s beautiful light pink color brightens up any dish you add it to. (Find it here.)
How to use:
In your salt grinder, in cooking, to season food. Also great for external therapeutic uses, such as spa treatments and salt scrubs.
What to avoid:
So far I got nothin’…but I love hearing from you so feel free to share your recommendations!
I love using different salts in my cooking but if I had to vote on which to use regularly for both health and taste purposes, I’d go with with Himalayan or Celtic Sea Salt.
What are some of your favorite salts to cook with or use in your health regimen?