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How to make sure that what you’re sprinkling on your food is actual salt and not other flavoring

Find the salt that works best for your kitchen by reading our guide to finding kosher, sel gris, Himalayan pink, and iodized salts.

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All of the recipes at Bon Appétit are created using Diamond Crystal kosher salt. This can be attributed in large part to the product’s dependability and widespread accessibility. However, is kosher salt actually the best salt for your home kitchen and you? Possibly—perhaps not. Is the fact that iodized table salt has undergone extra processing automatically a bad thing? No, not always. We’re deconstructing salt today. All forms of salt are available, including sea salt, kosher salt, normal table salt, unprocessed salt, Himalayan pink salt, and others.

The most common seasoning in the world has a lot of subtleties, which leads to a lot of misunderstanding. So, we got in touch with Mark Bitterman, a selmelier (yep, a salt sommelier) and the author of Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral. His book serves as a salt taxonomy. In it, he describes the various salt varieties, their uses, adaptability, effects on the environment, and why they are important. When purchasing a box of salt, “there’s never been any effort or economic logic for taking it down or looking at what’s behind the hood,” according to Bitterman. “It was just a box of salt until 15 years ago.” No longer! Let’s get going.

What is kosher salt, exactly?

Kosher salt and almost all other types of salt used in domestic kitchens are technically sea salts. It’s the spice ingredient that many home cooks and chefs rely on as well, which makes sense given its affordability, accessibility, and dependability. Kosher salt is a uniform product sold under all brands across America. Therefore, you can purchase any brand of kosher salt, such as Morton or Diamond Crystal, and it will always be the same, according to Bitterman. (However, if you choose your favorite brand of kosher salt, stay with it, as not all brands have the same salinity per volume. Later, more on that.) Because it is simple to handle with your fingertips, it has a larger flake than table salt. Read: hard to oversalt, easy to manage.

The term “kosher salt” does not necessarily refer to Jewish gastronomic norms. There isn’t a rabbi blessing big industrial salt bins in a warehouse. It is not a Jewish mineral nor does it come from salt mines of great religious significance (although it is nice in matzo ball soup). Because it was originally used for koshering meat—the Jewish practice of preparing meat for consumption—kosher salt earned its name. The koshering procedure involves drawing moisture from the meat faster thanks to the bigger grains.

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The absence of chemicals in kosher salt doesn’t necessarily make it the best, though. Although refined sodium chloride is good in adding salty to food, Bitterman claims that it is not a very natural method. Purity, or the lack of naturally occurring minerals inherent in unrefined salt, is the aim of an industrialized salt-making process. “Those minerals contribute to the flavor,” according to Bitterman. Once more, I’ll elaborate later.

So what exactly is table salt?

According to Bitterman, “regular table salt (also known as iodized salt) is an industrially produced, highly refined sodium chloride commodity with a number of additives—but also a few benefits.” Since it flows easily, it can be used in a salt shaker more effectively than other salts. (If using salt from a shaker is your top priority in life, choose this one.) It also aims to address the global health problem of iodine deficiency. In areas of the world where iodine-rich foods are not available, iodized table salt is a useful technique for introducing iodine into food systems.

With two exceptions, it is processed similarly to kosher salt: For iodized table salt, a new crystallization method and additives are used to produce a more granular and cubic crystal, according to Bitterman. The anti-caking ingredient stops it from clumping and the additions help the iodine attach to the salt so that it shakes out evenly and readily. Consequently, some people can sense a bitter aftertaste in food that has been seasoned with iodized salt, while others don’t like it because those additions might make pickles discolor. It’s simpler to oversalt meals when using table salt because of the small grain size; there is more salt by volume in a pinch of table salt than in a pinch of kosher salt.)

Exist other choices?

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Table salt and kosher salt are both heavily processed. According to Bitterman, these are “industrially produced and artificially refined, processed to optimize production.” Big Salt is essentially solving for profit rather than quality. However, defining excellence in other culinary businesses can be challenging. consider chicken Do you prefer organic, free-range, or locally-raised free-range? You get the idea. Salt is frequently overlooked, but this shouldn’t be the case. Isn’t it worth taking a moment to think about which salt you’ll use to flavor the bird if you’re going to such lengths to decide what bird you’re going to purchase? Unrefined salt is Bitterman’s preferred seasoning because of this (sometimes called natural salt).

According to Bitterman, natural salt is produced responsibly using sun energy and expert manual labor. Its use has a direct impact on the preservation of fragile coastal ecosystems. Neither kosher salt nor iodized table salt can make that assertion. And it tastes better, he adds. Those minerals Big Salt eliminates? These provide dishes a depth of textures and flavors that can’t be achieved with refined salts, “varying from buttery and round to oyster-minerally and sharp.”

Bitterman typically uses French grey sea salt (a.k.a. sel gris). It’s widely accessible, and the price is reasonable. Unless you’re dissolving it into soup or pasta water, you must ground down the coarse-grained salt. The best way to salt a steak is before cooking. He also enjoys Himalayan pink salt since it is natural, widely accessible, and easily distinguished. (However, be careful not to mistake it for pink curing salt, a preservative used in the production of charcuterie and other cured meats.) It’s officially a rock salt, which means that it comes from the soil rather than the sea. You can crunch it with your teeth because it’s soft enough to do so, but it’s also tough enough to make you go, “Whoa, that’s a crunch.”

You may use unrefined salt while cooking just much anything, whether it’s Himalayan pink salt, French grey sea salt, or any other variety. Use approximately three-quarters as much unrefined salt as kosher salt if a recipe calls for it. Once more, not all brands are the same, so you might go through some trial and error before you find the appropriate adjustment based on the brand you use. (Read more about salt conversion.)

The reference guide? If salt shaker effectiveness is important to you, use table salt. Choose kosher if consistency and convenience of use are important. Buy unrefined sea salt if you place a priority on the environment. Or, depending on your disposition, keep a few of each on hand.

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