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Moving back to the US from Europe after 8 years, my wife and I thought we were going crazy when salt seemed ... less salty here. Taking a look, almost all salt has anti-caking agent mixed in with it. Morton Sea Salt was the only one we could find without it, and indeed it's just as salty as salt oughta be.

So what's the deal? You know how often I had a problem with salt caking during my 8 years of using normal salt abroad? Zero. Is this really a problem, or is anti-caking agent cheaper than salt and they're just saving a buck by diluting it?

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I believe caking is a bigger problem in finer salts. Do you have a preference toward larger crystals (which tend to be more common in Europe, anyway)? The texture of salt also has a profound impact on taste. –  ESultanik Jun 30 '11 at 13:58
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If you really want the biggest bang for your salt buck then use coarse salt and a salt mill; our taste buds can only taste what's on the surface, so the finer and "rougher" the crystals, the more salty the taste. As a bonus, as @ESultanik says, coarser salts are less prone to caking and are unlikely to have anti-caking agents (if that's really a concern). –  Aaronut Jun 30 '11 at 18:36

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

At the time of writing, sodium aluminosilicate (AKA sodium silicoaluminate, E-554, or just "anti-caking agent" - by far the most common in salt and probably the least expensive) costs about $35/kg. Here is one source.

You can easily find sea salt or table salt for $1/lb ($2.20/kg) or even as low as $1/kg if you buy in bulk. And this is retail, not wholesale.

So, using anti-caking agents as "filler" - not a very shrewd business move.

Even if a distributor wanted to waste enormous amounts of cash putting unnecessary amounts of anti-caking agent in salt, regulations don't allow it. The FDA, and most other international food agencies, limit the amount of anti-caking agent to 2% by weight (except in baking powder).

2% - trust me, that's not going to make it taste any different. It's all in your head.

I can personally attest to the effectiveness of anti-caking agents in salt because I have purchased sea salt in the past without it - fine sea salt in one of those cardboard boxes with a tiny metal spout. I could never get it out of the box; I had to jam a knife inside to break it apart first, and even then it was difficult. And this is in Ontario, in the wintertime, when it's dry enough to get painful shocks from petting the cat.

Most likely, the reason you never had a problem with salt caking is that you were using salt with anti-caking agent. Maybe you didn't happen to look at the ingredients (it is salt, after all) or maybe they didn't list it - not every jurisdiction requires it as long as it's under the regulated limit.

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+1 for shocks while petting the cat. Happens to me with my mom's dog too. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 30 '11 at 15:12

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