It seems pretty obvious, but salt is essential in the kitchen, and for life. For cooking, or table side as a condiment, it's a staple in every pantry, in every part of the world. It can be stored indefinitely, and it's recommended that you include 8 pounds of salt, per adult, in a year's supply in food storage.
As basic as it seems, though, there are more varieties of salt than you may be aware of.
This is a refined salt with added anti-caking and, sometimes, bleaching agents. Most of it comes from mines and is ground to a fine crystal. Table salt is used for cooking and at the table as a finishing salt, as it's name suggests. It is free flowing and has a very tiny crystal size.
Often, table salt contains added iodine. In the 1920's people weren't getting enough iodine in their diets. This led to terrible thyroid problems so, it was decide to add trace amounts of iodine to salt to make sure we got enough. Seafood and sea salt naturally contain trace amounts of iodine, and so people who eat lots of seafood, or use sea salt, don't have to worry about iodine deficiencies.
Kosher salt is used in meat preparation according to Jewish dietary guidelines, and has less additives that regular refined salt. It's crystal shape tends to be more “flakey,” dissolves easily, and has a less pungent flavor than most other salts.
Sea salt is also less moisture sensitive, and stores well. It usually contains trace minerals, including iodine, that can also be beneficial to your health. My favorite sea salt actually comes from Utah, Redmond Real Salt. It's salt left over from the ancient lake Bonneville that filled prehistoric Utah Valley, and which the Great Salt Lake is but a remnant. It won the “Best Taste” award in 2004 from Chef's Best.
Grinder salt is a refined salt, used for finishing or cooking, and made specifically for use with a salt grinder. It's low moisture content allows it to flow freely. Personally, I'm not sure why anyone would need a salt grinder when Kosher salt or sea salt are available. If you do use a salt grinder, though, make sure you use one with ceramic or plastic grinding mechanisms. The salt will corrode metal (even stainless steel) and ruin the flavor.
There are several gourmet salts that are becoming more popular these days. They come from very traditional production methods they world over, foodies are now rediscovering many of these salt varieties. Harder to find, and more expensive, that most varieties, I lump them together into a signel category. They include, but are not limited to:
Kala Namak – an unrefined mineral salt from India, with a sulfuric flavor.
Celtic Sea Salt – hand harvested from the coast of Brittany, France, using no metal.
Fleur De Sel – a premier artisan sea salt, harvested from the surface of salt evaporation ponds. Different areas of the world produce different flavors based on the mineral content of the water.
Grey Sea Salt – is a “moist” unrefined sea salt, usually from coastal France, and is considered by many to be the best quality salt available.
Hawaiian Alaea Sea Salt – volcanic baked red clay is added to this salt, enriching it with iron oxide (rust). It is said to be mellower in flavor than most sea salt.
Hawaiian Black Lava Salt - harvested from above ground pools that formed beause of lava flows, purified volcanic charcoal is added to this salt both for color and its detoxifying effects.
Smoked Sea Salt – a relatively new invention, salt crystals are smoked over a wood fire to infuse them with a natural smoky flavor.
Picture by Steve Woods