An Introduction to Cooking Salts

March 19, 2010
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Locals collecting sea salt from the salt flats...
Image via Wikipedia

Salt tastes the same no matter where it’s from, right? Wrong! If you have grown accustomed to the horrible and harsher flavor properties of regular iodized table salt you will be completely smitten with the different varieties of cooking salts available. They are usually softer, milder, and far more flavorful than standard grocery store varieties. They even offer a small dose of minerals and nutrients too.

For example, a high-quality sea salt will usually be entirely unprocessed, full of all its naturally occurring minerals and nutrients, and it might even be harvested by hand! It can be used to finish foods because it will dissolve readily under any conditions and is ideally suited for use as a meat or fish rub as well.

Some varieties of sea salt will require the cook to purchase and use a special grinder due to the fact that the salt is still in a very large crystal format. Generally, these sea salt crystals are entirely uniodized and full of the more delicate flavors of natural food. There are also “Fleur de Sel” varieties that are crushed and ready for use. These are the traditionally chosen styles for use as a finishing touch on everything from soups and meats to sauces and even some dressings.

If you are a “purist” and want the most natural salt on Earth, you should investigate options in Himalayan sea salt crystals. Generally it is considered to be an artisan-made food because it is hand crafted, unrefined, and has absolutely no additives. It tends to be pink in color due to the high number of minerals in the salt, and this only adds to the unique flavor. Many high-quality vendors will sell it in small, fine-grain shakers or they may also package it in specialized grinders that crush the larger crystals just before use. Some even sell the salt in large cubes that have been hand-carved by the artisans and which are accompanied by proper steel graters that allow the cube to be shaved for each use. This is a wonderful way to introduce guests or family members to the delicate flavors of all-natural salt while also reducing the amount of sodium in their diet!

Even more interesting is the use of specialty salts in the production of traditionally sweet foods. For example, there are dozens of recipes that put sea salt to use in the creation of caramel. These candies might have a large amount of the material cooked into the sugar mixture, but many are also coated on their surfaces with a layer of mild sea salt or Fleur de Sel as well.

One last bit of advice where the use of all-natural cooking salts are concerned – be very careful in your choice of salt grinders. You should scrutinize any product descriptions to be sure that the device is capable of handling the damper or wetter sea salts. In fact, you may even want to set out specifically to find a grinder with no metal parts or one described specifically as a “wet salt mill” in order to be sure you don’t have to deal with corrosion and “off” flavors.

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