There’s table salt and kosher salt, coarse-grained salt and fine-grained salt, salt from the Himalayas and salt from the coast of France, red salt and black salt…salt may be our most basic seasoning, but shopping for it can be complicated.
The most important thing to notice on any package of salt is the presence (or absence) of the word “Iodized.” This is a good indicator of whether or not the salt is processed sodium chloride–that is, table salt–or whether it’s natural salt. Natural salt comes from the sea or from areas of the world that used to be seabeds, like the ancient seabeds in Utah. “Table” salt is natural salt that has been processed and stripped of its minerals. (Those minerals are extracted for use in other products; the remaining leftover sodium chloride is then marketed as table salt.) This stripped-out salt has to have iodine added back into it in the same way that stripped-out white flour has to be “enriched” with the very vitamins taken out during refinement. In the case of salt and flour, you’re much better off using the original, intact version.
Differences in grind, however, are a matter of the cook’s and diner’s preference: to brine a chicken, for example, you might wish to use coarse salt, whereas fine-grained salt would be better to sprinkle over a salad. Some people prefer to use salt grinders to grind the coarse grains, some prefer it pre-ground. Color, too, is a matter of preference. It’s also a matter of the different minerals you’ll find in the salt–Hawaiian red salt contains red clay while Himalayan pink is pink due to the iron oxide content. Sea salt from the coasts of Brittany is more grey than sea salt from Bali due to its different composition.
Some chefs have a favorite salt and swear by it. (Mine is Celtic Sea Salt!) Having an assortment of salts can be even more fun for the discerning gourmet–then their colors and flavors can be carefully paired with each dish. No matter which one you choose, however, natural salt contains many, many more minerals than table salt. It also has a smoother, more complex flavor. The next time you reach for the salt shaker/grinder, make sure that no processing plant came between the seabed and your table!
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