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What attributes are important when selecting salt for a dish?

Specifically where you would use sea salt, kosher salt or plain table salt?

I can often find sea salt (iodized and non-iodized) in places I cannot find kosher salt.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Most of the issues come down to the additives and the shape of the salt.

Some people find that iodized salt gives some off flavors, while sea salts will have regional differences in their mineral content that affects the flavor.

In my mind, the bigger issue is the shape of the salt:

  • Kosher / flake salt : See Darin's comments for examples of some of the benefits.
  • Pretzel salt : large crystals, gives a crunch when eating it.
  • Popcorn & Pickling salt : fine crystals; will disolve in room-temp water and stick well to relatively dry items. Pickling salt is uniodized.
  • Rock salt : good for salting paths and salting ice to bring down the temp when churning ice cream.

For general baking, or salting water for cooking, I tend to stick with cheap, old fashioned table salt, in part so I don't have to convert recipes. And I use iodized, because I don't eat out much, or eat much seafood or processed foods.

For general cooking, I tend to use kosher salt, mostly because I keep it in a container I can easily get a pinch of.

I've never bothered with most gourmet sea salts ... maybe I'm not using enough, but other than smoked salts, I don't really taste the difference.

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should I have included garlic salt? –  Joe Sep 14 '10 at 2:25
    
I think your list is excellent as it is. Garlic salt doesn't have a different texture to go in your bulleted list and it isn't versatile enough to really be an answer to the question. –  Sobachatina Sep 14 '10 at 2:41
    
Excellent response, this is exactly what I was looking for. –  jhappoldt Sep 15 '10 at 23:41
    
Garlic salt can be emulated with regular salt and garlic powder. This lets you control your salt/garlic ratio. –  JSM 2 days ago

I would not recommend plain table salt for any application. Kosher salt makes a good general purpose cooking salt. Keep it in a bowl by your stove and use it when you need a pinch or a teaspoon. The larger grains make it easy to handle. There are also sea salts appropriate to this purpose, though they are more expensive.

Most other sea salts, such as Maldon, sel gris, fleur de sel, and hundreds of others are meant as finishing salts. A small sprinkling of these beautiful salts on a finished dish, either by the cook or at the table, can makes an enormously satisfying experience.

Although the flavors of plain sea salts are fairly similar, the colors and texture vary greatly. This is where the artistry of pairing salt to food can come into play. If you are looking for a good place to start, I highly recommend Maldon sea salt, from Great Britain. It has a flaky, crunchy texture that is easy to love and usable on a huge range of foods. It is well regarded by virtually every cook and chef.

Then there is also a range of flavored salts; generally I don't find these as useful as I can add my own flavors to a dish. One exception is some of the smoked salts, which can provide a little smoky hit that is quite appealing.

An excellent resource for learning about salt is At The Meadow, a shop in Portland that has an excellent website. Their owner, Mark Bitterman, is releasing a book about his lifelong search for amazing salts. (Disclaimer, I had a brief affiliate relationship with them, which is no longer active).

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There is some great info in here that makes me want to experiment more. Thanks! –  Sobachatina Sep 14 '10 at 2:11
    
Not even plain table salt for baking? Larger grains aren't exactly a good thing there... –  Jefromi Sep 14 '10 at 2:57
    
@Jefromi - that's not necessarily so; Diamond Crystal Kosher salt is reputed to dissolve as fast if not faster than table salt, something to do with the geometry of the crysal. It is the main salt you will find in all good restaurant kitchens. It does weigh less per volume though, so you will need to adjust if you think your recipe was measured with table salt. –  Michael at Herbivoracious Sep 14 '10 at 3:13
    
Plain table salt is good for salting water used for pasta/rice/vegetables, IMHO –  Sam Holder Sep 14 '10 at 10:54

For me there are three considerations:

1- Handling

This one is the most important. Kosher salt can be picked up easily and pickling salt dissolves well and sticks to popcorn.

2- Flavor

This is really only a factor for fancy sea salts with other minerals or smoked salt. This really only matters to me for salts at the table.

3- Iodine

Not much food in my diet contains iodine. I sometimes use iodinated salt- especially in baking- just to make sure we get some. Getting the gout has become so unfashionable this century.

Overall I use kosher salt far more than any other.

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+1 for no gout! –  Jay Sep 14 '10 at 2:29
1  
Lack of Iodine gives one GOITER, a swelling of the thyroid gland. Excess uric acid gives one gout, a result of uric acid crystals forming in the joints. –  Joann Lijek Aug 3 '11 at 22:25
    
Goiter, not gout... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goitre –  derobert Aug 4 '11 at 17:20

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