Kosher Salt vs. Sea Salt: Which Salt Should You Use to Cook?
Kosher salt vs. sea salt: which salt should I use to cook? This is a question I get asked often when I teach cooking classes. Throw out your table salt for good, and read on to learn a few things to help you make a decision about which salt to stock in your pantry.
Where Does Salt Come From?
Salt is a mineral, sodium chloride, and an incredibly important element in cooking. Besides being an essential nutrient to our survival, it also enhances the flavor of the food that we make. Without salt, good food would lack that “zing!” of flavor that makes us exclaim “this is so good!” and keeps us coming back for more. In fact, without salt, food tends to taste flat. All salt originates in the ocean, whether it’s from an ancient sea bed in Utah or the Pacific Ocean. Salt takes on different shapes, depending on how salt is produced. All salt is created through the evaporation of a saltwater brine, but it is the rate at which is evaporates that determines the size and shape of the final salt crystals. A salt that is made through rapid evaporation in a closed container will create a crystal that is small and dense, such as refined sea salt. Slower evaporation in an open container will create a hollow, lighter flake.
Table salt is small and dense, which makes it very salty. It is heavily processed to remove trace minerals, and usually has iodine added to it. This was a practice started in the 1920s, in an attempt to prevent goiters, which are caused by iodine deficiency. However, this is not an effective way to get iodine in the diet, because it’s only about 10% bio-available to us, as explained here. Iodine also gives the salt a somewhat metallic taste. Table salt also contains other items besides salt, such as anti-caking agents and dextrose. If all you have in your house right now is table salt, do yourself a favor and get some kosher or sea salt right now!
There are two main brands of kosher salt available in the United States, Diamond Crystal and Morton’s. The word “kosher” actually refers to the size of the flake, not the fact that it is necessarily kosher-certified. (But it can be!)
“Koshering” salt was traditionally a larger flake salt, because this size was better for koshering meat because of its greater surface area. These two kosher salts actually have quite different qualities, because of how they are produced. Diamond Crystal (the red box) is made by evaporating sea water in an open container of brine which produces light and hollow flakes which are less dense. Morton’s sea salt (the blue box) vacuum-evaporated salt methods produces thin dense salt flakes. This means Morton’s sea salt is almost 2x as salty (dense) than Diamond Crystal. They are not interchangeable, and what’s important to know when following a recipe is which kind of salt the recipe calls for. Diamond Crystal kosher salt also dissolves quickly and sticks to food better because of its larger crystals.
Sea salt comes in a couple of different forms. Larger flake salts, such as fleur de sel or sel gris are made with low-yield labor intensive methods. Fine sea salt, which is made by rapidly boiling down sea water in a closed container, yields a denser flake. Some sea salts are more refined than others. The every day salt I use, Redmond Real Salt, is minimally refined, and contains trace amounts of minerals. It is made slightly differently, as it is sourced from a salt mine in Utah.
Kosher Salt vs. Sea Salt: What You Need to Know
I’m sure you’re probably wondering, well, this is all fine and good, but which salt should I use to cook with? Turns out, outside of throwing out your table salt, all salt use is really based on preference and familiarity. The most important thing is that you’re familiar with the salt that you cook with, and know it’s properties, so you can create delicious meals every time. For everyday cooking, choose a fine sea salt or kosher salt, and have on hand a bigger flake special salt, such as Maldon sea salt or Celtic grey salt, for garnishing and finishing touches. I personally use Redmond fine sea salt for every day cooking, and keep a couple of different large flakes salts on hand. When I am in a situation where kosher salt is what’s available to me, I make sure I know which type it is (red or blue box), and adjust my seasoning accordingly.
Other Salts and Unexpected Uses for Salt
Himalayan salt is another popular salt these days. It contains mineral deposits and is mined in the hills of Pakistan. The biggest difference between Himalayan salt and a single origin sea salt such as Redmond Real Salt is origin. I like to support reduced food miles by choosing a product that is produced closer to my home.
I use salt in many places where people might not think to. I especially like salting salads, not so they taste salty remember, but so that they have the “zing!”. This Crisp Romaine Salad is a good example, as well as this recipe too.
What type of salt is your preferred salt? Share you answer in the A Good Carrot Community.