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Nov 2, 2010 10:40 PM

Salts of the Earth

Do you play with them? Fascinated by them? Couldn't care less? I have a few and I find them kind of fun. Well, fun when I remember them. Most often they sit on the shelf and stare down at me. But there are times when they add sparkle and interest.

I have some black flake salt that is very interesting when scattered across glazed cauliflower or any pale food. It's nearly invisible on beets, but put it on mashed potatoes and it will catch your eye! Not too shabby on corn on the cob either. BIG (for salt) black flakes that demand attention. And get it!

Then there is the gorgeous red salt from Hawaii. It might be the color playing games with my taste buds, but I think this is the most interesting salt when it comes to unique flavor. It seems "fuller" than the other salts, but as I said, it could be my imagination. But hey, don't discount the placebo effect. If it lights your fire, glow!

I have some smoked salt. Alderwood, to be precise. I don't think I'll eve buy smoked salt again simply because you have no way to change the equation between smokiness and saltiness. If you want more smoke, you have to have more salt. I think I'll just go back to liquid smokes and kosher salt. That puts the balance in my hands.

I have some sea salt from Japan with a VERY high moisture content. It just tastes salty. And I have some Utah Basin salt with brownish flecks in it. I have no idea whether the flecks taste different than the regular white salt crystals, but it can produce an interesting confetti look on vegetables. I don't have any of that Himalayan pink salt that comes in slabs. I think it would be interesting to have a chunk to heat in the oven, then cook things on and see how salty they are after cooking. But you can't put it in the dishwasher to clean it, and where do you store a big slab of salt, and what if somebody drops it? But I did see an ad on line the other day for a "salt grater" that comes with a chunk of rock salt to grate your own at the table. I think I'll stick with a salt grinder.

If I could only have one kind of salt, I would stick with plain old fashioned kosher salt. It's the most versatile, as well as the lowest "salt" content. Hey, same salty flavor, less sodium? What could be better than that!

Do you play with salt? Do you have a favorite? Or do you think it's all a bunch of silliness to get people to plunk down their money for salts you can't tell apart if you're blindfolded? As for me, I think being hooked on salt is better than being hooked on something illegal... '-)

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  1. Interesting topic. I don't really do a lot of salt.

    I tried some smoked salt and wasn't that impressed. As you said, for more smoke, it takes more salt.

    I like sea salt as in certain recipes it gives such a nice feel in the mouth. Crunchy and salty. But that may just be the type I bought as it is coarser than regular table salt. I hadn't put a lot of thought into the appearances part of the salt equation, but pointing it up makes me more curious about some of these types with colors.

    1. Even though I do accept the premis that different salt varieties can excite the taste buds in subtly different ways when used in its raw form as a finishing seasoning and not in solution, I hold firm to my conviction that once the salt is in solution with other ingredients (e.g soups, gravy, sauces, etc.) they cannot be distinguished from one another by even the most discriminating diner.
      I use Kosher salt almost exclusively, even as a table salt, primarily because its flaked texture makes it much easier to control and when used as a finishing seasoning ingredient it offers a lingering saltiness on the tongue when compared to the average table salt. But that's attributable more to it's puffy/flaky structure than anything else.
      Yes, Caroline, I do believe it is "silliness" for people to plunk down good money for specialty salts, but only if they intend to use them in solution. Those who feel using special salts as "finishing salt" in their culinary masterpieces are, in my view, handling the use of this ingredient in a sensible manner.

      1 Reply
      1. re: todao

        I agree; we use 'iodised' ordinary salt for cooking, so we get the iodine we need, and enjoy specialty salts as an addition to the finished dish.

      2. I'm a kosher salt kind of a guy myself. That accounts for 98% of my salt usage in cooking. I usually find that subtle differences in taste between salts are overpowered by whatever food I sprinkle them on (smoked salt being the exception, but only rarely useful).

        However, I do like Maldon salt as finishing touch on some things. The pyramid shape of the crystals insures ideal crunchiness. I would recommend it to anyone who hasn't tried it.

        1. OK, I admit it. I like to play with my salts. The proliferation of different salts and their availability in the past several years has been great for a food dork like me. I mean , how could you not want to experiment?

          Like you, Caroline, I noticed how cool the black salt could look on light colored things – heirloom tomatoes are another example. The visual aspect of food is often overlooked as unnecessary by the home cook. It probably is, but so are a lot of things that are fun. Another interesting visual salt presentation is a couple chunks of the pink Himalayan salt on a piece of good chocolate or a caramel.

          In fact, I also like that chunky salt on meat prior to grilling. Mmmm . . . just picture it – a two and a half inch thick piece of prime ribeye sitting on the counter with big chunks of salt slowly melting into the flesh. For the flaky white stuff from say Portugal or Maine, I like to slather some deep, rich cultured butter on a tear of bread and sprinkle liberally.

          I don’t use smoked salt if I want a deep smoky flavor. That’s what the barbecue is for. I find it works almost the way that bacon would. For example, I'll pair it with a olive oil as an alternative base for something like a pot of beans.

          1. I am the Salt Monster; (high blood pressure be damned!).

            I am at the office right now, but working from memory...

            My usual cooking salt is Roland's Fine Sea Salt.

            For finishing, I have a special Salt Rack which contains:

            Hawaiian Red Clay,
            Scandanavian Smoked,
            Maldon's, (Love those little pyramids!),
            Sea Salt Hand Dug from Salt Island, BVI, (Very briny),
            Himalayan Pink Coarse,
            Murray River Pink,
            Fleur de Sel, and
            Celtic Sea Salt from Normandy.

            Then of course, there are various blends including my Mom's proprietary seasoning salt that I put on almost everything.

            Yes, I am The Salt Monster.

            5 Replies
            1. re: DoobieWah

              Doobs, I love salt as well. What's your source for the Hawaiian red salt? I just made poke last night but drove out to San Francisco to get the ogo and inamona and forgot to buy Hawaiian salt while I was out there. Is there a place to find it near you?

              1. re: dimsumgirl

                My source? Friends vacationing in Hawaii. Sorry, but that's a fact. My brother brought me some back several years ago and I hoarded it like gold, but just as I was running out, I agreed to plant sit for a friend who was spending two weeks there and I happily accepted the bag on the right of this page as compensation:


                That said, I bet I could find it here.

                (I get around...)


              2. re: DoobieWah

                Salt is one of my favourite topics. Have you read "Salted" by Mark Bitterman? Sounds like you would love it. It is utterly fascinating.

                Currently I have 20 salts in my kitchen and yes, I use them all. My favourites are my finishing salts, and I really know what I am doing when I use them. Have you tried Maldon's smoked yet? It's lovely.

                1. re: chefathome

                  I haven't read the book, but I will look for it; Thanks!

                  Also, I haven't tried Maldon's smoked, but I'll look for that as well.

                  And to add to my list, I also forgot Kosher, Brining, (for pickling), and Sel Gris.

                  I almost can't eat that nasty iodized stuff anymore so I rarely use salt in a restaurant. It's just too chemically tasting.

                  1. re: DoobieWah

                    The iodized stuff isn't allowed past our front door! ;-) We ensure we get enough naturally-occuring iodine in our diets. We use the pure sea salts - mostly artisanal if possible. My mind is a scientific one so I personally believe that the shapes, moisture content, crunch level, etc. all make dishes so very different. I also love how different sea salts taste of different minerals. So I for one am going to continue my collection.

                    My family thinks I border on inane when it comes to salt so in a recent three-week visit with them, I took along "Salted" and literally read from it. They at first humoured me, rolled their eyes, etc. but my brother literally stayed up reading it until the wee hours in the morning and told me he threw out his regular salts. Funny. There is a comprehensive encyclopedic section in the book with photos of over 100 salts and their characteristics and uses. Brilliant.

                    People sometimes ask about the use of too much salt but I don't use more than usual - just differently. Plus Mark Bitterman addresses that topic in his book and apparently there is no longer conclusive proof that eating slightly more salt raises blood pressure to any appreciable point. The kidneys (in healthy people) do such a fine job of filtering that excess salt leaves the body quickly. Interesting stuff!