- Taylor Leahy - Dietitian
Something to Shake About: 11 Different Salts; Their Composition and Effects on Food.
Salt – we’ve all heard of it, we’ve all used it in our cooking and we’re all too familiar with the consequences of adding too much to a recipe. Salt is arguably one of the most important ingredients to any dish, whether that be baking, preserving, or just dabbling with any recipe. Salt plays crucial roles in the flavor and taste of your dish.
In small amounts, salt acts as a flavor amplifier, but not only that, it enhances the sweetness of the food by blocking bitterness, which makes bitter foods easier to tolerate, and sweeter foods taste sweeter. With large amounts of salt, almost the opposite occurs. It reduces sweetness and enhances the umami flavoring of the dish, which may be why it’s included in many meat recipes. Salt also makes meat juicier by penetrating meat tissue and causing it to retain water, thus improving juiciness.
Most salts are primarily sodium chloride, an important mineral involved in fluid regulation, cellular processes, and nerve and muscle function. Without sodium, our blood volume would decrease, our cells would die, and our muscles would not be able to function properly. However, too much sodium can also be dangerous. A high consumption of sodium can cause an increase in blood volume and an increase in blood pressure – which puts an unhealthy amount of pressure on the arteries and heart, this may lead to complications such as heart disease and kidney issues.
Salt makes everything taste better, but we should consume it in moderation.
But is all salt the same? Well, that’s where things get a little complicated and if you’ve ever wandered down the spice isle you’ll know that not all salts are created equal.
Let’s take a look at a few different types, what they’re used for, how they relate to health and why you may want to keep them stocked in your pantry.
1. Table Salt
Even if you’re not a salt connoisseur, you’ve heard of table salt. Table salt is the most common salt, and the type you’ll find in most salt shakers. This type of salt is mined underground and processed into uniform crystals. Iodine is often added to table salt to aid iodine consumption in populations and prevent iodine deficiency. Iodine deficiency can cause hypothyroidism, meaning the thyroid gland cannot produce enough thyroid stimulating hormone. Thyroid stimulating hormone is needed to maintain the body’s metabolism and basic functions like body temperature. The downside to table salt is that it lacks any additional minerals – as opposed to some of the other salt varieties mentioned in this review. Table salt also has the highest concentration of sodium chloride, which makes it more likely to increase blood pressure. For those concerned about blood pressure, choosing a salt with a lower sodium chloride content may be beneficial.
2. Kosher Salt
Kosher salt is generally coarser-grained or flakier than normal table salt. Traditionally, kosher salt is used to make kosher meat (hence the name) but it can be used in any meat dish. Because it dissolves quickly it's able to quickly enhance flavor, which makes this a very versatile salt that can be added to most dishes. Kosher salt does not contain added iodine.
3. Sea Salt
Just like the name suggests, this salt comes from evaporated sea water. This type of salt is generally flakier and coarser grained than table salt, but texture can vary depending on the variety. The large, flaky crystals make it an excellent finishing salt, but sea salt can be used for seasoning most foods. Since it’s unrefined and minimally processed, sea salt will often contain other trace (meaning small) elements from where the seawater was found such as zinc, potassium, and iron. Similar to table salt, sea salt is mostly sodium chloride and may often contain ocean pollutants like microplastics and trace amounts of heavy metal. Little scientific evidence exists to suggest that there is any added health benefit to consuming sea salt as opposed to table salt.
4. Fleur De Sel
Translated to “flower of salt”, fleur de sel is harvested from the top of saltwater ponds rather than mined from underground. This type of salt is only harvested in Brittany, France and collecting the salt is highly labor intensive. The scarcity of this salt contributes to its price tag (roughly $80 for 5lbs) and rightfully so has earned the nickname as the “Cadillac” of salts. Fleur de sel is lower in sodium compared to other salts, and has a higher mineral content, bringing with it a light, briny flavor. Use the green tinged crystals for garnishing fish or cooked vegetables.
5. Himalayan Pink Salt
Pink Himalayan salt is a type of salt extracted from the Khewra Salt Mine located near the Himalayas in Pakistan. The salt is hand extracted and minimally processed to yield a minerally dense product. Some estimate that pink Himalayan salt contains over 84 different elements including iron, the element responsible for the salts characteristic pink hue. Although it contains elements that are not found in normal table salt, these levels are very low (trace minerals), meaning the salt is still a majority sodium chloride and therefore has a very similar chemical composition to table salt. There is little research to suggest that pink Himalayan salt has any health benefits beyond that of regular table salt.
Pink Himalayan salt is not only used in the kitchen as a typical ingredient, it’s also used as a cooking surface. Large blocks can be purchased and used as a surface for grilling and adding a salty flavor, or can be used as a fancy serving platter. It’s also found in some bath salts, and unfinished blocks are used to make salt lamps. Some people spend time in large Himalayan salt caves, thought to help relieve skin and respiratory issues. Although popular, there is little research supporting the use of pink salt for these alternative purposes.
6. Kala Namak (black salt)
Black Himalayan salt (also called Kala Namak, translated to “black salt”) a vibrant purple-red salt that is known for its pungent smell and unique crystal structure. Kala namak’s unique color comes from the mineral greigite, and its pungent smell is due to its high sulfur content. When the salt is processed it is often combined with charcoal, herbs, seeds and bark to give it additional flavoring and color. It can be used in vegetarian and vegan dishes as a way of mimicking the taste of eggs. Because black salt naturally contains less sodium than regular table salt, it may be beneficial for individuals with high blood pressure or are looking to reduce their sodium intake. There are other health claims for black salt, although many of them lack scientific data to support these claims.
7. Celtic Sea Salt
Similar to fleur de sel, Celtic sea salt is harvested from tidal pools off the coast of France. Instead of harvesting from the top, Celtic sea salt is allowed to sink to the bottom of the pools, giving it a higher concentration of minerals and a grey hue. This type of salt is not as prestigious as fleur de sel, but it falls above regular table salt in regards to quality. The briny flavor pairs well with meat and fish, and can be used for both cooking and a finishing salt. Similar to other salts on this list, Celtic sea salt is lower in sodium and high in other electrolytes and minerals, making them beneficial for individuals with high blood pressure. Health benefits from other minerals has not been proven.
8. Black Hawaiian Salt
Black Hawaiian salt, also called black lava salt, is traditionally harvested from the volcanic islands of Hawaii. Now, black lava salt is made by combining sea salt with activated charcoal. This unique salt offers earthy tones, a smoky flavor and a hint of sulfur originating from the lava formed minerals. The flavor offerings of this salt pair well with meat and fish. This salt should not be used in the cooking process as the charcoal will settle to the bottom of any dish causing a non-appetizing black hue. Instead use it as a finishing salt. Nutritional benefits are similar to other sea salts in that it offers less sodium than traditional table salt.
9. Red Hawaiian Salt
Red Hawaiian salt, also called alaea salt, is harvested from the iron-rich volcanic clay on the islands of Hawaii. It’s used in many native Hawaiian dishes like poke, and it is historically used in religious ceremonies for purification and the blessing of tools. Red salt offers a slightly nutty flavor which makes it a useful finishing salt for many dishes.
10. Smoked Salt
Smoked salt is, unsurprisingly, a smoked salt made by smoking the salt with a type of tree bark for 14 days. Different types of wood can be used to make smoked salt such as hickory, apple wood, hickory, mesquite and oak. A smoked salt can offer a unique flavor profile and enhance the natural flavors of the dish, while also offering a smoky taste. It’s often used in vegan and vegetarian dishes by mimicking a meat flavor, and it can also be used as a seasoning for hearty vegetables like potatoes. Adding smoked salt to a vegetarian dish might be a good way to add some meaty flavors without the added saturated fat that can often accompany meat products.
11. Pickling Salt
Pickling salt is a unique salt used for its brining and pickling ability and is made of pure granulated salt (sodium chloride). Pickling salt does not contain iodine, trace minerals, or anticaking agents that are common in sea salts and table salt. Pickling salt has fine granules and can dissolve in brine easily. Because pickling salt is pure sodium chloride, so it is high in sodium and may cause an increase in blood pressure.
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2. Salt makes everything taste better—Article. (2008, January 16). FineCooking. https://www.finecooking.com/article/salt-makes-everything-taste-better
3. Types of Salt: Himalayan vs Kosher vs Regular vs Sea Salt. (2018, October 19). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/different-types-of-salt
4. Is Pink Himalayan Salt Better Than Regular Salt? (2017, May 16). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/pink-himalayan-salt
5. Is Black Salt Better Than Regular Salt? Benefits, and Uses. (2019, September 19). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/black-salt