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What are the uses for specialty salts? And what are the differences between common salts?

Hey all, just a novice home cook here with a 2 part question..

1. Is there any website (or anyone here of course) that can explain the difference between say, iodized, kosher, table, sea, and other common salts that are all for sale in the supermarket? And when does one use sea salt instead of kosher, or used iodized instead of kosher, for example.

2. Lately the new craze are special salts; I see them on eBay all the time. What are they, and when can I use them? When is it appropriate to use them, I should say.

http://cgi.ebay.ca/Microplane-Special...

This is something I've considered buying, but when do you use such pretty salt?

Or what about these .. Hawaiian black salt, and hawaiian red salt

http://cgi.ebay.ca/HAWAIIAN-BLACK-Sal...

http://cgi.ebay.ca/HAWAIIAN-RED-Salt-...

And what about Fleur de sel?

thanks in advance for answering this. I would be willing to bet many other people would wonder about this as well

Cheers!

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  1. "Is there any website (or anyone here of course) that can explain the difference between say, iodized, kosher, table, sea, and other common salts that are all for sale in the supermarket?"
    Salt, in any form, is simply sodium chloride. Sodium chloride comes from the oceans of the earth when minerals dissolve in water and ultimately become separated from the water through evaporation. No matter what salt you use, gray salt, kosher salt, table salt, it's all sodium chloride and it all comes from the ocean (sea) so the term "sea salt" really doesn't tell you much. Even the salt that's mined in some of the dry areas of the earth where salt deposits were laid down many year ago is sea salt. The sea dried up and left the salt behind. The amount of salt mined today, compared to the amount gathered directly from sea water, is about 50/50.
    Iodized salt contains potassium iodide and was developed during a period when an iodine deficiency was a significant public health problem. But most diets today are well rounded and most experts don't believe that, except perhaps for third world countries, iodized salt is as important as it once was.
    Salt can be had in the form of flakes, crystals, or granulated, etc. - each of which is simply processed differently than the other. Rock salt pretty much describes itself. Flaked salt consists of flat particles and is somewhat fluffy. Granulated salt (the stuff most folks use as table salt and pour from a shaker) is much more dense. Therefore, volumetrically, it weighs more than flaked salt. That's why bakers (and most experienced cooks) who have to use specific amounts of salt in a recipe or formula weigh the salt rather than measuring it by the spoonful. "Kosher" salt can be either flaked or granulated and it's called "Kosher" salt because it's used in preparing Kosher meats. To say that salt is simply salt is not inaccurate, but it is not entirely correct. Some salts contain other minerals which is apparent in the color and, because of those chemicals, offers a flavor that differs to some degree from regular table salt. But the amount of minerals in those salts is microscopic and, although I've talked with people who claim they can taste the difference between two or more "specialty salts, I doubt that the flavor difference is great enough to be detected when the salt is in solution. Perhaps tasting the salt by placing it directly onto the tongue, but not in prepared dishes. A pinch of table salt vs a pinch of gray salt in a pot of stew is not, IMO, detectable on the palate. Some claim that the additional minerals offer a health benefit. Again, the mineral content is so microscopically small that I'm not convinced it's worth the added cost to gain whatever health benefit that allegedly resides in those salts.

    1 Reply
    1. re: todao

      I only use fine and coarse sea salt and kosher salt for cooking. I love specialty salts but I usually only use them to sprinkle over dishes that have already been prepared. I use them on some confections and cookies as well.

      I have some smoked salts that are a lot of fun to play around with as well. :)

    2. I absolutely love fleur de sel. I use it at the table only. My preference used to be to get the salt perfect while cooking, as I didn't like the texture of added table salt. But with fleur de sel, the texture is a plus. It's lovely on boiled eggs--or anything else.

      I use iodized salt for cooking. I've used sea salt in the past as well for cooking. I go through quite a bit salting pasta water and the like, so see no reason not to use the cheap stuff.

      The other salts I buy as gifts ;)

      1. I use kosher salt for cooking, and fleur de sel for fixing seasoning at the end of cooking (like sprinkling over a sliced roast where the salt otherwise wouldn't have reached the center). It dissolves very nicely for this task.

        Most (or all) special salts are gimmicks. The flavor is either undetectable even on its own, too weak to be noticed when sprinkled on food, or must be used in such high concentrations to notice that the food becomes too salty. Not to mention they're usually rather pricey.

        I wouldn't use iodized salt because of its off taste, but other than that, what you use is personal preference. Kosher salt enables you to get a more even salt distribution, and you can pick up more at a time, that's why I like it.

        3 Replies
        1. re: AndrewK512

          I'm a supertaster and have never noticed an off taste to iodized salt. I've tried both ... perhaps your taste sensibilities are just far more exquisite than mine.

          1. re: foiegras

            I definitely notice it. And yes, we've done a blind test. If you grew up with iodized, you might not be able to tell a difference.

            1. re: jeremyn

              I use a lot of kosher salt and I grew up with iodized. I definitely notice a difference. I have table salt for certain things but for most cooking I use kosher salt.

        2. I suspect you have started a bit of a firestorm. As far as tasting the difference between iodized salt and any sea salt or kosher salt once it is in the dish and dissolved and mixed, there is little or no discernable difference. In fact Cook's Illustrated did a taste test and no one could repeatably tell the difference. However, you will hear people on this thread swear up and down they can taste a chemical taste. Now there is a big difference in saltiness or sodium content of table salt and Kosher salt. Because of the size of the crystals, you need twice the kosher salt than iodized table salt. Most recipes are talking kosher salt so if you use table salt you will have to adjust the amount.

          The specialty salts like the himalayan pink and whatnot have various mineral impurities and that really does affect flavor. It is my understanding that a lot of hawaiian black has charcoal in it. Anyway these specialty salts are usually used for finishing salts to be put on at the table on say a steak.

          What I am intrigued about is smoked salt. The expensive stuff is alder smoked from the Baltics but I would like to buy the smoked kosher you see on ebay. It sounds like it would contribute greatly to a dry rub for bbq purposes and on a steak that you just pan fried or broiled.

          I have heard of people making their own as well as a lot of other spices that would just so happen to work in a dry rub.

          2 Replies
          1. re: tonka11_99

            Tonka, I bought some smoked salt at Penzey's in Dallas a few weeks ago. I am waiting to find out what to use it on. I thought about the next time I grill a steak it might be just right.

            1. re: tonka11_99

              I generally cook vegetarian meals and I have found that smoked salt adds "meatiness" and depth to a lot of dishes. I used it especially on lentils and beans when I am looking for hearty, wintery, cozy flavor.

            2. I certainly don't use kosher in a pasta pot or a potato pot, I get the blue can with the little girl with the umbrella.... iodized. I use sea salt at the table. In general I use kosher in recipes. I generally use iodized in brines but you have to use half the normal amount. By the way, use 6-7 tablespoons per quart of water of soy sauce in brine for a little different flavor.

              2 Replies
              1. re: tonka11_99

                "When dissolved in chlorinated tap water, iodized salt can develop a distinct seaweed-like iodine odor, the result of a reaction between the iodicde and chlorine compounds." - On Food and Cooking

                1. re: AndrewK512

                  Now that's interesting ... my city doesn't use chlorine. There is a little chlorine in the water from other sources, of course, but not much ...