It used to be so simple: Salt was always just, well, salt. But in recent times, things have gotten more complicated. Sea salt, table salt, organic salt, Celtic salt — these and more are available to the average consumer, thanks largely to gourmet and health food stores. Here’s how to distinguish between a few of the most common:
Table salt — This is the one most of us sprinkled on our food growing up and probably still have a shaker-full of now. It comes from salt mines, from where it’s been dug up, refined and had all of its minerals removed, leaving pure white sodium chloride. It is fine-grained, with additives to keep it free-flowing. It’s the cheapest and most widely used.
Sea salt — As the name indicates, this is collected from ocean or sea water through boiling or evaporation by sun and wind. Available in many different varieties and in grinds that range from coarse to extra-fine, it’s usually not as refined as table salt. In fact, it often still has some trace minerals intact, including iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc and iodine, which gives it the bright, clean flavor devotees rave about. Sea salt tends to be significantly more expensive than common table salt because of its more labor-intensive manufacturing process.
Kosher salt — This may or may not be sea salt. It usually comes in flakes instead of granules, with a larger surface area that’s especially suitable for sticking to pretzels and the rims of margarita glasses. Free of additives, it has a saltier — some say “brighter”– taste than regular table salt. Gourmet kosher salt runs about $7 per pound. Organic salt — Salt is a mineral, not a plant, so it cannot be “organically grown.” However, certified organic salt is guaranteed to be harvested from a protected, pollution-free environment and to be unrefined. For those who are concerned about pollutants in their food, this may be a good choice. Expect to pay around $9 per pound.
Celtic sea salt — An unrefined sea salt harvested by hand in Brittany, France, it has a grayish color from the clay-lined salt ponds from which it originates. It is slightly moist and very rich in trace mineral content. Celtic salt is available in coarse, stone-ground, fine and extra-fine grind and retails at approximately $10 per pound.
Fleur de Sel — Known as “the caviar of sea salts,” these precious crystals are skimmed from the very top of salt ponds in the coastal areas of western France when sun and wind conditions are ideal. The hand-raked and harvested crystals are small and flaky with a creamy white or pale grayish tinge. Fleur de sel is considered more a condiment than a spice, with just a touch needed to transform a dish with its delicate flavor and moist texture. It goes for $20ï¿½30 per pound and up.
For more information:
SaltWorks — www.saltworks.us
Salt Traders — www.salttraders.com
Gourmetsleuth — www.gourmetsleuth.com
Salt Institute — www.saltinstitute.org