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salt grinders: essential or pretentious?

I understand the value of freshly ground pepper, nutmeg, or any spice where the essential oils dissipate over time. But what is the purpose of grinding salt? It's a mineral that should not change with time provided it is stored in a low humidity environment, so I can't imagine that it for a fresh taste. I keep 4 different siza and style of salt crystals: kosher, coarse grain sea salt, rock salt and some Morton's iodized lurking somewhere, so I think I've got most bases covered. Opinions?

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  1. I have no idea, but I think they look so cute together on the table, the coarse sea salt grinder and pepper grinder. However, I, too, would like to know.

    ~TDQ

    1. If I need to grind salt I do it in my mortar. My DH's mom gave us one years and years ago. It was glass and the grinding ball never did much. It finally went to the Good Will.

      1. i, too, gave up on the salt mill and strictly use a mortar & pestle for grinding my salt.

        1. I personally don't use one, but I think they are perfectly acceptable. It's just another way to use and store salt. You (and me) store salt in a salt pig or small container, right? What's the difference in storing it in a salt grinder? Other folks might think it's foolish to store salt in one vessel, transfer to another to grind (mortar & pestle) and then possibly transfer it to yet another vessel for storage or use. I mostly use kosher salt, but for larger rock salts I think it's great. It also makes for a very acceptable and convenient way of serving salt in a dining/restaurant table setting when inferior iodized salt is undesirable. I have much more respect for a person with a salt grinder on their table as opposed to a salt shaker.

          1. I don't know about essential, but mine is certainly convenient. I keep a salt pig with sea salt on my stove for cooking, but I have a salt/pepper grinder from Crate & Barrel for seasoning when we eat at the table. It it split vertically into two compartments with whole peppercorns in one side and rock salt or coarse sea salt (depending on what I refill it with) in the other. You crank it one way for pepper and the other way for salt. You can adjust the size of the grind, but it adjust for both salt & pepper, not individually.

            I like it - I can grab one thing and carry both salt and pepper to the table. I know they have pepper grinders with salt shakers on top, but I think it's too easy to shake out too much salt with those. With mine, I do have a tendency to pepper first and then salt, since you get a little residual when you switch directions and I'd rather have more pepper than salt on my food.

            1. Count me as another who donated a salt grinder; we now get out the mortar and pestle and do it ourselves. My current salt grinder is named jackp and he is utterly essential.

              1. I have never had a salt grinder, and have never been given reason to believe I'm missing out ;) In my mind the whole point of fleur de sel is the texture, so I certainly wouldn't grind it ...

                1. the only use for a salt grinder is to make money for Pampered chef.

                  I filled mine with white peppercorns.

                  1. I prefer the sea salt over the 'granulated' type (even though I doubt in a taste test ANYONE would really know the difference), but I'm not about to sprinkle such big chunks on my food and don't want to grind it in a mortar and transfer to some other container, so keeping the sea salt in a grinder seems easier.

                    By the way, I got very irritated putting Trader Joe's grey "French" sea salt in my grinder, then finding out it was damp and wouldn't go through the grinding mechanism. Took a long time to clean it out. A big mess. Also, it didn't really help trying to "dry" out the salt on a cookie sheet in a low oven.

                    1 Reply
                    1. I'm surprised to have found people who've been successful with a salt grinder. I went through 2 or 3 relatively expensive ones, but inevitably they corroded from the salt within a year.

                      Of course, I lived in San Francisco with the notorious fog and humidity, so that may make the difference.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: cyberroo

                        My mother told me she saw somewhere that there are "salt grinders" specifically made to withstand the corrosion -- in other words, you can't just buy a regular peppermill type thing and put salt in because it will corrode. I was a little skeptical, but who knows -- I noticed in Williams-Sonoma there are grinders specifically labeled as SALT grinders, so it's probably true.

                        1. re: allegro805

                          Perhaps the burrs are plastic, rather than metal, so they won't corrode.

                          1. re: jillp

                            The grinding mechanism in ours is made from ceramic. We have two. One for coarse rock salt. One for a special sea salt my wife uses. I also keep a salt pig filled with kosher salt by the stove for cooking. Don't judge me. :)

                            1. re: rcianci

                              Yea, we went through actual salt mills, bought from Williams Sonoma, labeled salt mills.

                              Of course, my sister bought me about 8 kinds of salt for christmas, plus I brought back hawaiian pink salt, so we might need to reinvest in a salt mill again. A lot of the salts currently in my cupboard are too chunky to use as is.

                            2. re: jillp

                              But the plastic was worthless. It could not grind.

                            3. re: allegro805

                              Exactly, of course there are. Maybe that's why people are so opposed to them!!! People who put salt into metal grinders are only asking for corrosion. Manufacturers who suggest and/or sell metallic based grinders are like folks selling fake Rolex watches in NYC - sure they look good to start with but give it a week and you're going to end up with a rusty piece of metal! Take a science class from 5th grade and you can figure that one out. Salt grinders are not made for kosher salt, they are not made for Fleur de Sel, they are not made for ham and they are not made for Sam (little Dr. Suess joke there). They are made specifically for large rock salt. Salt grinders should be made from plastic or ceramic - neither of which will oxidize and eith of which are acceptable.

                            4. re: cyberroo

                              I live in the East Bay, around a mile from the bay, not as damp as SF but still an issue. I found the Ikea $6-7 buck spice grinder w/ ceramic wheels/gears to be very good.

                              I had one for pepper for a year plus and my sense from using it often was that it would last. It works so well, hasn't gone mushy or rusted, so I got one for salt. I figured for $7 bucks even if it failed after a couple of years it would be worth it.

                              BTW, a few grains of uncooked rice (non-converted) helps absorb the moisture in salt shakers.

                              As for pretentious, maybe on the table but I only use it in the kitchen. Different sea salts (Hawaiian, red, etc.) do seem to add something to meat, poultry and fish. ...your mileage may vary...

                            5. If you have access to the Nantucket grinders (salt and pepper), they are excellent. Durable, functional, and reasonably priced.

                              1. I bought a set of s & p grinders from my coworker's kid for one of those school fund raisers. I've had them for about 5 years now because they looked cute but their practicality has won me over. I love having a coarser grind of salt rather than the finer table salt. It also eliminates my need of having both a sea salt container and a table salt container.

                                1. Keep it simple: a few grains of rice to the salt shaker keeps it free flowing. No need for another uni-tasker...

                                  If anyone asks tell them what my Sicilian grandmother told me: its for good luck and prosperity....

                                  1. No one ever seems to mention the question of iodine in salt.
                                    It began to be added to ordinary table salt some time ago in an effort to prevent goiters, which were very common in some populations in the US who lived far from the coasts and didn't consume foods in which it naturally occured, such as fish. This is now a very, very rarely seen disease and there's no longer any reason to use iodized salt.
                                    Morton's Salt, marketed with the slogan "When it rains, it pours," contains anti-caking agents as do many other plain table salts. Kosher salts, of course, can't contain "adulterations" due to religious restrictions; they have coarser grains then plain table salt and consequently measure differently when used for recipes.
                                    Both plain table salt and Kosher salt are mined from deposits of salts from ancient dried sea water. In a sense they are prehistoric sea salt.
                                    The subtle variations among the sea salts which we seek out for their flavor depend on the trace minerals in the waters from which they are taken or various substances or scents which are added.
                                    At their most basic, all salts are NaCl - sodium cloride - with the addition of something and/or variations in crystal size. It's up to us to decide whether the price difference is worth it or lost somewhere in the soup.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                      Iodine is also known to add to brain function in the developmental years. There was a NY Times article how one of the central Asian countries made iodine in salt and the benefits were astounding, esp. given the cost, pennies per ton.

                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                        It's a common misconception that Kosher salt never contains additives. Even the Salt Institute makes this error on their web site. However, Kosher salts can, and some do, contain additives. Morton's Kosher Salt, for example, contains Yellow Prussiate of Soda (Sodium Ferrocyanate) as an anti-caking agent.

                                        1. re: srgoodman

                                          Which is why I get Diamond Crystal Kosher salt. It only contains salt.

                                      2. Funny, I always thought a salt grinder was only needed because buying salt in rock form would not breakdown easily any other way. In other words if you're going to use salt in rock form, you're going to need a grinder.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: HillJ

                                          Well you're right. It would be wise to grind rock salt no matter if you have a grinder or not - mortar and pestle, food processor, etc. You can certainly put rock salt directly on food, but why would you. It's huge. It would fall off the item you're cooking before doing any good. And just to clarify, we're talking true "rock" salt where the crystals are .5 cm or so, not a coarse grained salt where the crystals are still relatively large compared to say, iodized salt, but still small enough to hang onto the food item you're cooking.

                                        2. I have a salt grinder next to my pepper grinder for getter meats ready for the grill. Granted I use it a lot less than the pepper mill and find a good shaker with some good old fashioned kosher salt in it, but when I'm looking for a fine grind with the intensity of the sea salt I'll grab the mill.

                                          If anyone gets impressed with, or calls pretentious, a salt grinder, pepper mill or any other kitchen gadget gotta give it up please.

                                          1. I like using a salt grinder for salting raw tomato slices. The ground salt comes out of the grinder in uneven shards and bits, making for crunchy bursts of salty flavor. Can't get that from a shaker!

                                            2 Replies
                                              1. re: foiegras

                                                I thought a pig served exactly the same purpose as a shaker, except for coarser salt that couldn't fit through a shaker's holes. Not the same as irregularly shaped bits of salt that come out of my grinder!

                                            1. Can't be bothered to wash the pestle and mortar everytime I want fine salt. Table salt is disgusting. Therefore I have a salt grinder. I actually have two, one for the kitchen and a pretty one on the table.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: ali patts

                                                i use a small mortar and pestle exclusively for salt - never need to wash it!

                                              2. I've noticed in the past couple of months that they're starting to sell salt in disposable grinders. I'm using one because I no longer buy regular table salt and even the fine sea salt I was using was clogging the holes on my regular salt shakers. I don't use it while I'm cooking, but I do use it when the food needs salting after plating (I'm fine using a salt dish, but my Dad absolutely hates them). I'll look into getting one of the Ikea ones for the table, though.

                                                1. My thanks to all for your comments about salt grinders. I received a 4 lb Himalayan candle burner for good karma. I didn't want to burn wax in it and the battery candles lasted about 24 hrs. So I decided to break it up and use it as salt (esp since the friendship with the giver was over).

                                                  I had a good time throwing the plastic-bagged salt block into the air to break it up--several times, of course, great retribution! But getting the salt into usable pieces became daunting. The suggestion of using a mortar and pestle solved my dilemma and now I have plenty of salt (thanks to a resuable Trader Joe's plastic grinder). Yeay!

                                                  1. Old thread, but surely one issue is being missed? The only polite way to add salt to ones plate is to spoon a little into a pile on the rim, which is done from a salt cellar with a small spoon. Impossible to achieve this with a grinder.

                                                    1. Oh my gosh...I **love** mine! It's battery-powered - just press the button on the end and voila - salt! I like the flavor of the sea salt much better than table salt, and the grinder dispenses is nice and evenly over the food.

                                                      (Note: It's actually supposed to be a pepper grinder, but we're not really "pepper people" so use it for salt instead...)

                                                      1. Strictly posh.

                                                        Once in the 1970's I bought one. It cogged up, was replaced at the store, cogged again, became inoperable, and thus discarded.

                                                        A simple salt pig with sea-salt and your nimble fingers will do a better job of it cooking anytime. At the table, a simple to elegant shaker for salt will do fine. At the table, we offer a good Danish teak and inox set from the 1960's, which remains practical and good looking.

                                                        Nutmeg, fine pepper, cracked pepper, and whole peppercorns are another matter.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: SWISSAIRE

                                                          +1, Robert. I, too, once succumbed. Mine was an impulse buy of a pre-loaded disposable POS from Costco. It worked after a fashion, but it was useless in cooking and butt-ugly at table. Pigs and shakers for me...

                                                          Aloha,
                                                          Kaleo

                                                          1. re: kaleokahu

                                                            My Dear K-

                                                            You ? I'm crushed.

                                                            Just shocking. I'm probably guilty of many more ruinous splurges based on hype and " ultimate chef wizard tools."

                                                            No salt grinder, but did I inform you of my latest spurge ?

                                                            I'm just now back from Brasil, ( 2 months and no Dengue ) and I purchased the ultimate high-tech Caipirinha maker there.

                                                            It is, . . . . wait for it, . . . a hollowed out tree-wood jug.