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Recently, I've seen salt grinders sold in stores. I understand that freshly ground pepper has a plus over pre-ground pepper in terms of freshness and strength. However, salt to me seems like a mineral, as opposed to pepper which is, well, a pepper from a plant. So, is there any plus in terms of taste and freshness to using freshly ground salt out of a salt grinder? (I am obviously not talking about special flavored salts which contains other spices and herbs which would benefit from being freshly ground)

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    I'm going to leave this here because I think it's a near-duplicate, but it doesn't seem exact for some reason. This question seems to be asking about "freshness" which seems to be discarded by the older question: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/3720/… – logophobe Jan 31 '17 at 14:50
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    Since salt cannot go bad no freshness factor that I am aware of. – paparazzo Jan 31 '17 at 20:11
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    It's for texture. Coarse salt flakes just look and crunch and taste awesome on some things. – Chloe Feb 1 '17 at 16:27
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    In my experience the grinders help a lot in making my food too salty. – Pieter B Feb 2 '17 at 15:00
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    @CountIblis please do not add opinions on the healthiness of food or other nutrition related topics, neither in comments nor in answers. This is strictly off topic. – rumtscho Feb 3 '17 at 9:43

10 Answers 10

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Not really in terms of flavor, no. Salt doesn't have a substantial number of volatile compounds that are released by grinding, in contrast to something like whole peppercorn, which releases a range of aromatics when the outer hull is breached. Even specially-sourced salts which contain a range of flavorful minerals don't really release them into the air, they dissolve into the foods they're added to instead, and/or are picked up by your tongue as you eat.

One advantage grinders offer is that a lot of them are adjustable, and can be tweaked for everything from a very fine grind to large crystals. This can be helpful depending on the effect that you're going for - seasoning popcorn with very fine salt vs. garnishing a steak with large crunchy chunks, for example. Smaller crystals with more surface area will generally tend to be perceived as saltier due to more taste bud contact, and will also dissolve into liquids (i.e. soups or stews) more quickly. I like using larger crystals sometimes for flavor/texture contrast and visual appeal for some dishes.

Another advantage mentioned by others is that finely pre-ground salt may also contain anti-caking agents to keep it from clumping together. If that bothers you, a grinder gets around this because larger pieces won't stick together as much before being pulverized by the grinding mechanism.

Some producers package salt in disposable grinders just as they do with pepper, and they share the same problems: cheap grinders simply aren't very good at getting a consistent grind size, or they have mechanisms which wear down quickly. Reusable grinders are often much better, and as you've seen they're getting very easy to find even in non-specialty stores. I like ceramic grinding mechanisms personally, because I feel that they get a better "grip" on the particles and are better at consistency, but good steel mechanisms will do well too. Here are some suggestions for care to help you get the most out of them.

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    Does the rougher shape with more surface area, compared to more consistent crystals from table salt, make a difference? – Cascabel Jan 31 '17 at 20:54
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    @Jefromi I suppose the difference is mostly one of using the salt for texture vs. flavor, right? Fine salt provides an even coating and lots of taste bud contact, hence more perceived saltiness; coarse salt would give less salt flavor but provide a noticeable (and presumably pleasant) texture contrast. Overall consistency is then important because without it, you can't control the extent to which you get one effect vs. the other. – logophobe Jan 31 '17 at 21:33
  • I wasn't talking so much about fine vs coarse as rough vs smooth. anderas' answer suggests there's something to that. – Cascabel Feb 1 '17 at 8:01
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    The body of your answer is great, but the opening “no difference in flavour” is a little misleading as a first impression. As you say, the only difference is in grind size/shape, not from degradation of flavour chemicals or similar in the salt itself. But grind size/shape often can have a big effect on the overall flavour of a dish. – PLL Feb 1 '17 at 16:28
  • Jefromi, yes. This is why "kosher salt" is preferred by cooks, for instance. – Dave Kanter Feb 2 '17 at 19:56
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I personally like having a salt grinder for popcorn. When I salt my popcorn, I want the crystals to be totally pulverized with a much more fine grind than is available in the box.

Finely ground salt tends to cake without additives, so putting rock salt in a grinder will give me pure salt dust with no additives.

  • Seems harder than just buying a thing of popcorn or pickling salt. – Batman Feb 1 '17 at 15:14
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    @Batman popcorn or pickling salt is not available locally in all areas (I guess depends how popular popcorn is in the area). I know I'ld have to order it online. Which is a harder than grinding it myself. – Lyndon White Feb 3 '17 at 1:34
  • @LyndonWhite - Strange. I've lived in several big cities and rural areas in the US, and I've seen one or the other at a grocery store. – Batman Feb 3 '17 at 1:59
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    tldr: other countries are different from even rural America. I imagine popcorn is much more popular in the US than in Australia (where I'm from) -- certainly fits the stereotype I see on TV :-D. Also out supermarkets are just plain worse all round AFAICT from everything I've read on this site (I also can't get pickling vinegar or cherry flavoring no matter how I try, for example). I've literally never seen popcorn salt. Theoretically some stores sell it. I certainly doubt it is available in the small town where I grew up. – Lyndon White Feb 3 '17 at 2:57
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Another good reason for having salt grinders is that they are FUN!

Perceived quality definitely affects our enjoyment of food and drink, plenty of research has shown this.

But another factor in meal enjoyment is how fun it is to eat. Many ways we eat involve doing things that are not strictly necessary for flavor, but still make the process more enjoyable. Kids walking around gnawing on giant turkey legs understand this. It's more fun than eating from a plate. It's not just the food, but the experience of eating it.

At the dining table, there are many simple procedures the diner can use to transform the food in some minor way at the table.

Dipping chips in a bowl of cheese, loading up your fondue fork and dropping it in the pot, sprinkling some cheese and red pepper on your pizza, composing your own salad at a salad bar, even things like adding sugar to tea or coffee, all provide an opportunity for the diner to influence the final product.

That guy who always puts salt on everything? It's only partly about the saltiness, it's partly about the ritual.

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    Underrated answer. For showmanship and giggles. I do feel slightly more accomplished grinding salt into a dish, as opposed to shaking it in. – Eleanor Zimmermann Feb 2 '17 at 0:49
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Salt kept in a coarse form can be stored without needing any anti-caking or similar additives (check the ingredients list on a pack of table salt, there are often other mineral additives for that purpose), since caked salt is a non-problem with a grinder (unless it is wet).

And as mentioned above, being able to control the fineness of the grind is advantageous, and allows you to only store one style of salt and having it available ground as needed.

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The main point for me is missing from the other answers:

Very finely ground salt has a larger surface area (due to the smaller particle size and irregular surface) than "normal" table salt. This makes it dissolve more quickly.

When completely dissolving the salt (e.g. in a soup), there will be no difference between finely ground salt and coarse salt. But if you use a grinder to add a bit of salt to your dish at the table, you will need less salt for the same taste. And also, depending on the grinder, be able to distribute the salt more evenly.

Verifying what I just said is pretty easy: Taste a grain of coarse salt and the same amount of finely powdered salt. The coarse salt will taste less salty but for a longer time and the finely ground salt will have a really strong taste but be gone more quickly.

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    +1 for mentioning that sometimes very finely ground (finer than table salt) is exactly what you want, eg on some styles of french fries! – rackandboneman Feb 1 '17 at 9:44
  • Yeah, this is pretty much what I was going to say. I know I can just upvote but I think this is the best answer. – Dave Kanter Feb 2 '17 at 19:57
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If your home is humid, the salt will start to clog. This makes it more difficult to serve properly.

Grinders solve this issue.

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    No, if the salt in my grinder gets damp the grinder bungs up and I have to take it apart and clean it. – RedSonja Feb 1 '17 at 9:17
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    The easy answer to damp fine salt is a few grains of rice in the salt shaker. – user207421 Feb 1 '17 at 22:30
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Salt is salt, and as you said the granule size isn't important if you're cooking with it (usually). It matters when you add salt at the table, though, where a finer salt is normally preferred.

Especially, the size does make a difference to how the salt soaks up humidity from the air. The finer the grind, the faster the salt will become "wet" and start to stick. Coarse salt can last for months and years with no issue, but fine salt can start to clump after a few weeks in a humid climate (like where I live).

To solve this issue, the manufacturers put an anti-caking agent into the finely ground salt, which the coarse salt doesn't need.

Some people (myself included) prefer not to eat the anti-caking stuff. To solve the problem of humidity, we buy coarse salt and use a grinder to get fine salt on demand at the table.

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Style points! I would also guess you might buy higher quality salt to go in the grinder.

That aside, if it's a good grinder, it will allow you to select the grind size, which you might want to do to add a bit more/less crunch to your salt.

There should be no difference in freshness or taste.

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    A lot of disposable grinders have a possibility to select the size of 'grind'. Possibly a lot of people like to have a 'nice' grinder on the table opposed to 'Walmart' stamped across it. But at the end of the day, salt is salt. – dougal 5.0.0 Jan 31 '17 at 15:02
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    What would low-quality salt be like? – JDługosz Feb 2 '17 at 6:38
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    @JDługosz Out of personal curiousity, I did some salt tasting a while back, and while I had a really hard time identifying those characteristics that people often talk about of sea salt (deep, rich, briny, umami, mineral, whatever), I had no problem picking out the iodized salt with an anti-caking agent. It has a bitter off-taste that I find unpleasant. That's what I consider low quality salt. – J K Feb 7 '17 at 19:15
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It's not about being freshly ground, it's about making high-quality salt which comes in large crystals useable at the table.

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    I'm sceptical about that too – salt should be salt IMO, nothing else and nothing you could really call “high-quality”. A problem that definitely exists though is fine salt which has too much anti-caking agent in it, but I prefer slightly rougher salt anyway (which stays usable forever without any additives). – leftaroundabout Jan 31 '17 at 19:47
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    Salt varies in the trace minerals found with the sodium chloride, which is why you will notice slight differences in flavour with sea salt vs. rock salt and the various different coloured salts (eg pink Himalayan salt), as the same minerals which give the salt its signature colouration change the flavour slightly. It should however be noted that most humans are not capable of distinguishing such small variances in flavour unless they have put significant time into learning to do so (or learning to discern subtle flavours in general) – Cameron Jan 31 '17 at 21:06
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    @Cameron well, stuff like pink Himalayan salt or “black lava salt” are of course a different story, these probably have their use but you wouldn't use these as you everyday all-purpose salt – they're meant to achieve a special effect, not to just salt something. And Fleur de Sel can be delicious, but I would never put that in a grinder – its natural consistency is just right for only crushing and distributing it with your fingers. – leftaroundabout Feb 1 '17 at 2:44
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    I think this is the correct explanation for the popularity of salt grinders. Larger crystal salt may or may not taste better, but the popular opinion is that it is higher quality indeed. So yes, if we assume that the eater prefers to eat large crystal salt - and most of them do - then freshly ground salt has an advantage. – rumtscho Feb 1 '17 at 8:56
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    @leftaroundabout, I did not say anything about whether you should grind these different salts or use them like regular salt, I was simply explaining that the trace mineral content is what makes the difference with specially sourced salts in response to your comment that salt should be salt. – Cameron Feb 1 '17 at 15:12
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My thoughts on the actual differences have already been detailed in other answers. But I actually wished I had one handy a few days ago, so I wouldn’t have to buy a box of “table salt” (fine powder) which I hardly ever use. What’s left in the formal dinnerware’s shaker is all I have. Just grinding the kosher salt flakes, if easy enough, means not needing that.

Oh, there might be a difference: I recall seeing a show on candy where different rock salts were used as they have different flavors. Having your choice of that, in a powder, would be available with a grinder.

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