Upping your salt game is the single easiest and cheapest way to make even your simplest meals more delicious. Step one? Ditch the iodized table salt.
Why? Well, Let’s Experiment.
I want you to pour out a few different types of salt in small clumps. Start with iodized table salt. Also add fine sea salt, coarse sea salt, Maldon sea salt, and Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Now, put your finger in the salt and taste each one. What do you taste? See how sharp and harsh the iodized table salt is? Yep, that’s why it needs to go!
All Salt is the Same — and Also Not the Same
Did you know that sodium is on the periodic table of elements? It’s the only element that humans eat. That’s right. We eat one rock, and that rock is salt. Specifically, we usually eat Sodium Chloride (NaCl). Our bodies need salt to maintain fluid levels and to maintain nerve function. Without salt in our diets we feel dizzy, get twitchy, bloated, lethargic, even depressed. In extreme cases, a lack of sodium in a person’s diet can lead to coma or even death. Our bodies need sodium to survive. Just keep in mind too much salt also has negative consequences for our bodies. High blood pressure, kidney disease, heart attacks, strokes, even lupus. MS and allergies have also been linked to excess salt in our diets.
Three Variables Make One Salt Different From Another
The Shape and Size of the Salt
Modern table salt is a perfect even square and very small. Maldon salt is uneven, imperfect and very large. When you compare these two salts, it is clear how different they are even though they are both made up of the same stuff. NaCl. Sodium Chloride. They don’t taste the same, and they don’t work the same way in cooking. So while at a chemical level all salts are the same, they are very very different where it matters. In the kitchen and on our plates. Small even granules pack a lot of salt in a small area. Dense salt like table salt makes it easy to oversalt. Pair that with the metallic taste of table salt, and it is generally not the optimal choice if you want tasty food. Fine sea salt is an excellent replacement for iodized table salt. It is similar in size with none of the metallic flavor.
Bigger flakey salts like Maldon salt, grey salt, and other specialty salts work great for garnishing food. Just a tiny sprinkle on your food adds a lovely crunch and soft saltiness. The texture work wonders to finish a soup, fresh tomatoes, a salad, even some desserts.
The Speed at Which it Dissolves in Liquid
So much of how I cook relies on tasting as I go. So it is crucial that whatever salt I choose dissolves quickly in liquid. I want to taste the pasta water and know just how salty it is right away. Slow dissolving salts can fool you into thinking something needs more salt when it does not. Not all salts dissolve at the same rate. No matter what salt you choose, take some time to understand the rate at which it dissolves. When you taste your food you want the clearest picture of your seasoning level.
Additional Minerals and Other Components
While salt is NaCl, most salt has a little something added to the mix. As I mentioned above, table salts usually have iodine added. They also have an anti-caking agent. Iodine is considered a healthy addition (I’m not so sure). The anti-caking agent is considered not harmful. I don’t see a reason to add anything extra to my food that does not add flavor. And in the case of table salt, I think it detracts from the taste! Not all additions to salt are bad though; many salts benefit from the addition of other elements. Trace levels of minerals in Maldon salt, grey salt, and even the ever-popular Himalayan Pink Salt add a unique flavor to each salt. Experiment with them and see which ones you prefer!
Types of Salt
Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
Of all the salts on the market in the US. Diamond Crystal is the one that is the least salty by volume. It dissolves quickly in warm water. This makes it much easier to determine overall saltiness quickly. A quick dissolve helps you not oversalt while you cook. It is also the most commonly used salt by professional chefs. Most recipes in cookbooks and popular cooking shows use this salt. Morton’s Kosher Salt is much saltier. If you use this salt instead of Diamond Crystal, use half the amount called for then adjust to your liking. Use this in all your cooking other than baking. For baking use fine sea salt instead. The smaller fine texture will disperse more evenly into your finished product.
Fine Sea Salt
Use this instead of table salt. There are no anti-clumping additives and no added iodine.
Coarse or Medium Sea Salt
Use this as a finishing salt for crunch or instead of Kosher Salt in cooking
Mass-produced sea salts that are made by boiling and evaporating seawater. Maldon salt is created by evaporating seawater over a long period (sometimes YEARS). The result is large, uneven, pyramid-shaped crystals.
Fleur de Sel
This salt is harvested off of slowly evaporating sea salt beds in western France. The result is uneven, clustered stacks of salt. When this salt absorbs trace minerals, it changes from snow white salt into a highly prized grey salt.
A Note About Himalayan Pink Sea Salt:
Lots of people use this salt because of its reputation as a health food. 84 trace minerals yay! Well, not exactly. Most of those trace minerals are not absorbable by your body, and some of them are actively harmful. Its ok though, because the levels are EXTREMELY LOW. On the flip side, the few remaining beneficial minerals in this salt are also in meager quantities. There is no evidence of any kind supporting the health benefits of Himalayan Pink Sea Salt. So if you love the flavor, by all means, use it. If you use Himalayan salt for the health benefits save your money. Buy some inexpensive sea salt instead. Or buy my favorite, Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt.
A Note About Iodine
Your thyroid needs iodine to function properly, and our bodies do not produce it. We have to get it from dietary sources. To reduce the instance of goiters (way back in 1924) manufacturers began to add iodine to salt. Here is the big common sense thing though. If our body REQUIRES something to function, it stands to reason that whatever it is, is easy to find and consume. So yeah, you can get all your iodine via the food you eat without adding it to your salt. Cod, tuna, lima beans, eggs, milk and seaweed are all high in iodine and also happen to be delicious. So seriously, ditch the iodized salt. It’s gross.
A Note About Reduced Salt Diets
Are watching your salt intake? Cooking your meals at home and cutting out processed foods will get the job done better than any low salt diet. 75% of American salt intake comes from eating processed and packaged foods…. 75%!!! It is tough to exceed your daily salt maximums when you cook your own food. If you want to reduce your dietary sodium intake start by cutting these high salt, foods from your diet. Cook at home instead! You can control your salt intake much better this way, and your food will be even more delicious! Always follow the advice of your physician though.
Digging Deeper into Cooking with Salt
I can recommend two excellent cookbooks. J. Kenji Lopez Alt’s “Food Lab” and Samin Nosrat’s “Salt Fat Acid Heat” do a great job of breaking down how to cook with salt. The lessons in these books will improve your cooking like nothing else you have ever done. Lopez-Alt’s book has an analytical scientific approach to explaining how things work. Nosrat also explains the science, but she takes a more intuitive approach to cooking.