Salt, one of the world’s most abundant natural resources, is a natural mineral made up of two elements on the periodic table – sodium and chloride. (Don’t worry, there won’t be an exam at the end of this article.) Salt occurs naturally in the sea, but can also be mined from salt mines on land. There are a variety of different kinds of salt in your local grocery store aisle, so what’s the difference and what is each kind used for? Herein, a primer:
1. Iodized table salt: This is probably the most common type of salt and the kind you generally use to fill your saltshakers at home. The reason it’s called “iodized” is because today, most salt manufacturers fortify the salt with the mineral iodine, which is an essential mineral for fighting off certain iodine-related diseases like hypothyroidism. But if you need to limit your salt intake, there’s another natural way to get this important mineral into your system — eat more seaweed, which is rich in iodine.
2. Sea salt: This is salt that is made using evaporated seawater. It generally has larger and coarser crystals than table salt. It is harvested in a number of places in the world, but there are a few standouts. Celtic sea salt is a type of sea salt harvested using a 2,000-year-old method from the water of the Celtic Sea in Brittany, France. Another type of sea salt is fleur de sel (which literally translates to “flower of salt”) which is harvested in the same region of France by manually scraping the top layer off the salt before it sinks to the bottom of a large salt pan. Fleur de sel is considered to be the cream of the crop when it comes to types of sea salts, and one of the most expensive.
3. Pickling salt: This salt has no additives and is generally used in brines to pickle foods. Because it doesn’t have any additives (regular table salt has anti-caking agents and iodine added), it keeps the liquid from clouding up.
4. Kosher salt: This salt got its name because it is commonly used when preparing kosher meat. Because it has larger, irregular-shaped, and coarser crystals than regular salt, it does a better job of drawing out the blood of the animal, which is required of kosher meat before cooking. This salt is preferred by many cooks because of its milder flavor and lack of additives.
5. Himalayan pink salt: This salt is harvested in the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range and is basically fossilized sea salt. It gets its characteristic pink color from the amount of minerals in contains, particularly iron. It is generally more expensive than regular salt, but is also considered healthier and more pure.
6. Black salt: Also known as Kala Namak, black salt is actually a pinkish-grey color. It is mined in India and has a strong sulphuric smell. It is commonly used to spice food in Southeast Asia and has recently become more popular in the U.S. among vegan chefs who use it for the “eggy” flavor.
Though some salts mentioned above are somewhat healthier versions of classic salt — which is not in and of itself a bad thing — current research shows that too much sodium can lead to a host of health problems, but that’s because most of the sodium that is generally consumed in the American diet comes from processed food. (In other words, it ain’t no fleur de sel.) That being said, cooking at home with the salts mentioned above is your best bet for knowing exactly how much sodium you’re consuming and what’s in it. Of course, that’s just a suggestion; feel free to take it with a grain of salt.