To say that salt is one of the most basic ingredients would be an understatement. Every recipe you’ll ever cook, from Mongolian steak bowls to gnocchi bakes requires salt (and usually pepper, but that’s another article…). While it may be simple to stick with good ol’ table salt, you’ll find plenty of other options at the grocery store. Some dissolve better than others, some should never be cooked with, and some even have their own unique flavor (besides ‘salty’).
So, what’s it matter?
Well, properly seasoning your food is arguably the most important part of a dish. And, if a home cook doesn’t understand the different kinds of salt available, there’s a really good chance (like, 100%) that your food isn’t being properly seasoned.
So, next time you’re at the grocery store buying your essentials…we’ve got you covered at Anybody Can Chef! From Himalayan to kosher, here’s everything you ought to know about salt.
At the risk of starting off with a bombshell, kosher salt isn’t (necessarily) kosher. It’s referred to as ‘kosher’ because it is the salt used for koshering meat.
Kosher salt is very popular in most commercial kitchens and is generally the salt of choice for professional chefs. Its coarse grounds make kosher salt easy to quickly handle with your fingers. The large grains also make it easy to see how much salt you’re adding to a dish. Kosher salt also has a lower salinity than iodized salt (480mg per serving as opposed to iodized’s 520mg), which means it is more difficult to overseason when using kosher salt.
At Anybody Can Chef! our test kitchen exclusively uses Kosher salt when cooking meats, vegetables, or sauces. We suggest you do the same.
Iodized salt (or table salt) is the most popular salt by far — but we daresay it doesn’t deserve that title.
Iodized salt contains anti-clumping agents which can give it a distinct, chemically taste that is certainly undesirable by most professional chefs or skilled home cooks. It has a weaker flavor than other salts and its small grain structure makes it difficult to see and handle, creating more opportunity for over-seasoning.
The fine grind of iodized salt makes it good for seasoning tableside, as it dissolves almost instantly. Outside of that, though, we would steer clear of this stuff.
Sea salt is typically even more largely ground than kosher salt, and should be used for finishing, not cooking. Its extra-large crystals don’t dissolve well, and it can be very difficult to tell just how much salt you’re adding to a dish because of this.
So, what’s it for?
Salt is generally used to bring out the other flavors in a dish. But, occasionally, salty is the desired flavor. Think salted caramel or a salted chocolate bar. In these instances, large-grain, coarse salt is used because of its dramatic texture and flavor. When baking or finishing sweet desserts, reach for the coarse salt.
Flaky salt is very similar to coarse salt in that it is almost always used for finishing dishes. It is generally adored for its texture, though — flaky salt adds a light, crispy textural element to dishes. Flaky salt has a fairly high moisture content and isn’t quite as salty as some of the other options listed here.
If you’re looking for a more gourmet, restaurant-style version of coarse sea salt, flaky salt is the name to know. Many chefs love Maldon brand flaky salt specifically, for its light, crunchy texture. Buyer beware, though — this stuff doesn’t come cheap.
Himalayan Pink Salt
We couldn’t make a salt article without a nod to the ever-popular Himalayan pink salt. From lamps to salt shakers, this stuff is everywhere. Our scorching hot take? Don’t believe the hype.
Himalayan Pink Salt is coarse and gets its pink color from trace amounts of iron oxide. Its health benefits are often cited, but they’ve also been often dismissed. The main thing Himalayan Pink Salt has going for it? Its pink color. Its flavor is not significantly different than any other salt, but it does add a pleasant pop of color to whatever dish it finishes. Presentation is important, so if that’s what you’re looking for, Himalayan Pink Salt is a great alternative to flaky or coarse ground salt.
The salt section of the grocery store can be intimidating, especially considering that salt is such a must-have kitchen item. Our dishes at Anybody Can Chef! can really be made with any type of salt, but we suggest following the above recommendations to really level up your home-chef skills!