HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >

Discussion

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!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  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 ...

              2. duckdown - to answer your question #1 - here are websites that can explain the different types of salts:

                http://www.asianonlinerecipes.com/foo...
                or
                http://ezinearticles.com/?Beyond-Tabl...

                Hope this helps you. I use Kosher for cooking and sea salt at the table. But that's just the way we roll in our house. I've never tride Fleur de sel, and sometimes will use iodized if doing a huge pot of pasta water. But that's it.

                1. The spice store I moonlight in carries about 20 or so different salts. The "wetter" salts, like the gray and fleur and Murray River incorporate very quickly into dishes because of their higher moister content, they're also a little softer to the tooth if you use them as a finishing salt. Himalayan and Brazilian are harder and drier and the coarse grain we carry makes them better for grinders. As it was explained to me, the processing of "table" salt removes about 50% of the saltiness, so sea salt tends to be saltier and lingers longer on your tongue, the hawaiian pink is especially long lasting. So the "healthful" quality of sea salt tends to come from the fact that you can use less product to achieve the same level of flavor than you would have to use of "regular".

                  The smoked salts are very popular; we carry 3: black, alder smoked and one that's smoked over spent chardonnay barrels and you still get a hint of the wine in the aroma. The black's been best described by a customer as smelling like the house after the fire. Great on eggs with the smokiness and contrast of color. A few grains go a long, long way. I typically recommend those as finishing salts for roasted or grilled meats, the chardonnay smoked is the lightest and works best with fish or vegetables. You do really get a hit of smoke, I like another poster's idea of using them in a dry rub. We also have some infused salts, might be considered gimmicky I guess but there's no missing their flavor. My recent favorite is a habanero salt that's very flavor forward. Amazing on simple seared scallops. Again, these would be finishing salts since the flavors would definitely dissipate in cooked dishes. There's an aged balsamic salt that's amazing on fresh sliced tomatoes. Lime salt that's great with vegetables, salads and for rimming margaritas. Matcha and espresso are recommended as baking salts or dessert salts, again for finishing, but I don't have any experience with them, not a baker/dessert guy. White and black truffle salts both have noticeable pieces of truffle and are again great with egg dishes and on cheesy dishes. Very potent. Buttered grissini sprinkled with a touch of truffled salt then wrapped with proscuitto made an amazing appetizer. I used our wild porcini salt for a salt crust baked potato.

                  So there's tons of different types and flavors. Rather than ebay I'd recommend finding a spice shop around you if possible and go in and smell and taste some different things and ask for recommendations.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Scott D

                    Wow Scott D - You really gave me some valuable information. We have a shop in our area that is not a specialty spice shop, but they do sell multiple spices as well as do cooking classes. I think per your ideas, I may check them out for some taste tests (as I know they do them as we did an olive oil taste there). Thanks for the info!

                    1. re: boyzoma

                      I'd love to try the slabs of himalayan pink that are heated and used for cooking with sometime, but they're awfully expensive. I seem recall an Iron Chef episode where the challenger used about a 12" rounded mound of solid salt to cure/"cook" thinly sliced lamb.

                      mentioned here http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/576243

                    2. re: Scott D

                      Thanks for the info. I like the idea of baked potatoes/specialty salts. That sounds like a great way to taste them ... and also a great way to make ye olde baked potato more interesting.

                      1. re: Scott D

                        Holy Cow, Scott D. That shop is certainly lucky to have you. You sound very knowledgeable. Moonlighting??? You should be writing a column!!! Having said that, I went to Penzey's Spice website and could not find any of the salts you mention. Would you give a website (if available) for the salts? Or can you give the name of the shop?? Thanks in advance.

                          1. re: metalgrannie

                            IIRC, in a past Penzey's catalog they wrote that they were eliminating the specialty salts from their offerings. Ah, this thread addressees it:

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/680624

                            I use the regular table salt without iodine for pasta water, brines, etc. Kosher for cooking. I've received a number of finishing salts as gifts, but haven't played with them that much. The containers don't fit into my main spice drawer, so out of site - out of mind.

                        1. The differences are all subtle, and sometimes it's a taste vs. texture question, but to me it's part of the fun of cooking to experiment.

                          As far as the difference, if you are a chowhound or someone who fancies themselves a gourmet cook, you have probably replaced your iodized salt with Bailene's sea salt in the blue canister or a big box of Kosher salt. They are both fairly inexpensive and work for everything.

                          The super fancy salts like Himalayan and pink salt and whatnot, are for finishing dishes only. Don't cook with them, there is no point.

                          Finally, texture is an important piece of the equation as well. In fancy restaurants, sometimes you'll see the chef putting a chunky salt on salads and the like, it leads to an exciting and unusual bit of crunch. That's usually, IMO, half the reason for trying a fancy-smancy salt, that its flaky or crunchy texture adds to your dish.

                          The relatively large grain size of kosher salt can affect recipes as well. For instance I have a great pizza dough recipe that calls for something like two tablespoons of kosher salt--a lot--and I suspect if you subbed in an equal amount of finer grained salt it would be too salty.

                          Salt should spark a lot of discussion--it is so essential! Remember that fairy tale about the girl who told her father the king that she loved him as much as she loved salt.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Mandymac

                            I love the taste and crunch specialty salts can add to things like salads, etc.

                            And yes, you are right, you generally can't substitute 2 tablespoons of a finer grained salt for 2 tablespoons of kosher salt. It will be WAY too salty.

                          2. The only salt you HAVE to have in your pantry is MALDON from England. Most chefs and cooking professionals will agree. As a bonus, they make a smoked version by "roasting" the salt over Alder wood to create a subtle finishing salt. All of their salts have the look and feel of snow flakes! I use it while cooking and on the table. One small treat in life I cannot live without! Second best is a good Kosher salt, Diamond is the best, but sometimes difficult to find.

                            1. I too use kosher and sea salts after years of using iodized salt. I recently have been prescribed by my doctor to take thyroid medication. I was amazed to find out how many people are taking this medication. I wonder if it is because we are not using IODIZED salts as much as we did in the past! I am introducing iodized salt back into my family's diet again and I'll use the "designer" salts occasionally.

                              1. One thing I learned fairly recently (but is probably old news to Hounds) is that kosher salt is not called that because it is kosher. It was originally called "koshering salt" and was used to draw the blood from meat, as part of the process of making them kosher.

                                I use kosher salt for cooking and sea salt at the table (usually Hawaiian, because I live in Hawaii and it's cheap here). I've also enjoyed truffle salt while camping (fancies up the stodge), smoked salt on steaks and gravlax (just a little bit in with the kosher for curing), and black salt on boiled eggs and scallops (as much for the drama of the color as anything).

                                1. Try this page, it has pictures and descriptions of salts.

                                  http://www.saltworks.us/salt_info/si_...

                                  Certain finishing salts can affect flavor, but the key is that they are finishing salts. You don't cook with them, you sprinkle them on the finished dish so that you taste them when you take a bite of the food. I've got a few different salts. Well, many, actually. Sea salt, Fleur de Sel, Kosher, pink, Hawaiian black and red, and Indian black salt or Kala Namak. I think the last is one of the most interesting. It tastes like eggs. I was pondering trying to use it in a vegan "egg" salad as I have some vegan friends and ones who are allergic to eggs.

                                  1. Just happened to see an Internet friend's blog today about making butter, and then dividing it into thirds and flavoring with 3 different specialty salts.
                                    http://www.winosandfoodies.com/2010/0... Good way to try out new salts!

                                    Just last night (on his cabbage show) I heard Alton Brown say "I prefer kosher [salt], but it doesn't matter." I've *never* heard him say that before, wonder why the change of heart?

                                    1. Do you remember when our salt shakers always had some dried beans put into them to help absorb the moisture and keep the salt from clogging up the holes in the shaker? Am I giving away my age? Then the Morton Salt Company came out with a drawing of this cute little girl in the rain and carrying an open umbrella in one hand and an open salt box in the other? The box was pouring out the salt onto the slogan “When it rains it pours.”
                                      That was when they started bleaching table salts and chemically treating them with anti-caking agents, and iodine. Since then there have been no more cases of goiter, but large increase in blood pressure disorders.
                                      I don’t know how one salt compares with another taste-wise. In our kitchen and at the table, we use only a kosher salt with a silly name. It is called “Real Salt”, and is mined in northern Utah. In modern air conditioned homes, we needn’t worry much about the caking of salt anymore. And, so far, no one has complained about my cooking.
                                      It is available in some health stores, or the web site for Real Salt is: http://www.realsalt.com/

                                      1. If it's going in a liquid, there's no difference. Nada. Zip. Zilch. So for stews, soups, bread dough, etc, I use table salt, so as to get my iodine.

                                        However, when salt is on the surface of meat or something where it's still crystalline, it's nice to have the larger crystal size (you get more of a blast of salt flavour when you put it in your mouth). Then I use kosher.

                                        Finally, if something is pale coloured, and I'm going to put a large crystal salt on the surface, it's fun to add the fancy coloured salts, merely for presentation. It's a fun way to give an ooooooo factor to a dish. Looks pretty, tastes salty. Cause at the end of the day - it's just salt.

                                        1. I've tried several of the smoked salts carried at my favorite shop, Stephen Frank, in Laguna Beach. http://stephenfrank.com/store/sc/map.asp
                                          The best is a smoked fleur de sel - cold smoked over Chardonnay barrels. My other favorite is a Yakima smoked salt. The fleur de sel is a wet salt and works nicely on fish. The Yakima is larger grains and works well as finishing on grilled meat.

                                          1. I was about to post a new question about salt, only to first find that almost all my questions are answered here! :-D

                                            That said... I have been using the Morton's Lite Salt, which is 50/50 sodium chloride/potassium chloride, for about 10 years in order to reduce the amount of sodium I consume (I also carefully monitor what I eat for sodium content; I probably eat about 75% less sodium than the majority of people do). I recently purchased kosher salt because a recipe specifically called for it, and noticed that the sodium content per 1/4 tsp "serving" was the same for the kosher salt as it is for the Lite Salt. I am assuming that this is because there are fewer of the larger kosher-salt grains per 1/4 tsp than there are of the smaller processed-50/50 'mixed' grains.... hence, the actual amount of SODIUM chloride is the same, or nearly so, in both. The kosher salt, obviously, is not iodized; the Lite Salt is, though I'm not terribly concerned about that element.

                                            I was surprised to read here that "recipes calling for salt mean kosher salt", because other than that one recipe I mentioned, I have never seen that specified in any cookbooks that I have, or recipes I have read. I've always always assumed that "1/2 tsp salt" meant "1/2 tsp typical table salt" (e.g., Mortons, etc). Shouldn't I assume that in the vast majority of cookbooks published in the past couple of decades, that the authors did mean 'table salt'?

                                            Many newer recipes call for sea salt .... which again makes me ask, do they mean sea salt from a grinder set to 'fine', 'medium', or 'coarse' in order to get the quantity called for in the recipe? Although from what I'm reading here, it seems a waste of money to use sea salt in the actual cooking process itself.

                                            I have no problem with switching to kosher salt for recipes, in fact I'd be happy to eliminate those chemicals, but am just wondering where the "valid source" for the claim that 'salt' in recipes always means kosher salt regardless of whether it's specified or not. Thanks!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: dessert_diva

                                              I don't agree that most recipes use Kosher salt. If they do, they say it. Otherwise I assume it's regular table salt and have rarely ended up with something too salty.