Salt is salt, right? It’s a staple in every kitchen, and sure, it comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, from iodized table salt to sea salt and delicate finishing flakes, but doesn’t it all achieve the same goal ― to make things taste salty?
We talked to experts who explained why this isn’t the case. One clue that salt’s quality can vary is its price: a 26-ounce container of iodized Morton salt costs less than a dollar, while a 17.6-ounce jar of Jacobsen pure flake sea salt will set you back $55. What gives?
If you haven’t given much thought to the salt you stock your home kitchen with, you’re not alone. With so many different types of salt on the market, it’s easy to stick with what you know or grew up with. But you may be missing out on something that can improve the flavor and texture of your dishes with just a pinch and a few extra bucks.
Craft Salt vs. Industrial Salt
Hand-crafted salt harvested by a company like Portland-based Jacobsen Salt Co. commands a higher price than its commercially produced counterparts because of two key factors: scale and process. While a large-scale producer like Morton Salt can make salt in mere hours thanks to highly efficient industrial methods, Jacobsen Salt Co. founder Ben Jacobsen detailed that their salt generally takes about 2.5 weeks to make, turning seawater harvested from Netarts Bay on the Oregon Coast into dry flakes of salt.
“Our process determines the final quality and output of the product,” Jacobsen told HuffPost. “The taste [of the salt] is immediately reflective of the quality of what you’re getting.”
In terms of scale, Morton is a 171-year-old company with more than 20 production facilities across the United States, Canada and the Bahamas while Jacobsen is an 8-year-old company with just one saltworks.
What follows is an overview of some of the most popular types of salt on the market. We begin with the most expensive and end with the cheapest option.
Finishing Salt: Fancy AF
In the world of salt, finishing salt is the fancy stuff. You know, the type of salt that Salt Bae would bounce off his forearm and onto a perfectly cooked steak. Finishing salt is the most expensive because it takes a very particular temperature, salinity level and length of time to form larger crystals. It’s also used more sparingly in the kitchen than traditional cooking salt, meaning it doesn’t need to be produced en masse. Jacobsen’s famous pure flake finishing salt has a bright salinity and delicate crunch that lends textural contrast to both sweet and savory dishes.
Sea Salt: Minerally And Unrefined
Sea salt is a broad category of salts made by channeling water from a living ocean or sea into large trays and allowing it to evaporate naturally in the sun and wind. Since it’s not as refined as other types of salt, it contains trace amounts of other naturally occurring minerals like iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc and iodine. Sea salt will vary in flavor and price, depending on where and how it’s made.
For example, fleur de sel, the “caviar of salts,” is made from delicate salt crystals that form on the surface of the water and must be hand-harvested using traditional wooden rakes. In addition to the labor-intensive harvesting method, fleur de sel is only produced in small quantities, which makes it expensive. Fleur de sel from SaltWorks goes for $2 per ounce, and a container of Le Saunier De Camargue fleur de sel costs $3.18 per ounce.
Kosher Salt: Your Kitchen Workhorse
Kosher salt is a popular choice for everyday cooking as it contains fewer additives and has a cleaner taste compared to processed table salt. While it’s not as cheap as table salt, it’s only slightly more expensive and has versatile applications. If you’re switching over to kosher salt from table salt, note that there’s less salt in each pinch of kosher salt due to the shape of its granules.
Table Salt: A Mass-Produced Commodity
Of all the salts, table salt is the cheapest and most common type of salt found in kitchens across America. It undergoes a refining process that removes most minerals, leaving pure sodium chloride and resulting in a bitter taste. Common additives include iodine and anti-caking agents.
What To Buy, According To A Chef
The different sizes, shapes and flavors of salt dictate the types of cooking they’re most suited for. Palak Patel, a chef at the Institute of Culinary Education, told HuffPost that kosher salt and ― if you’re willing to splurge a little ― finishing salt will cover just about all your home cooking needs.
“Kosher salt is one of the most versatile [types of salt] because of its shape,” Patel told HuffPost. “Unlike iodized [table] salt, this is a clean salt that doesn’t have a residual taste. ... [Since] the grains are bigger than iodized salt, when you sprinkle it onto vegetables or meat it’s more likely to stick to the surface and take that salt flavor into the food.”
Patel’s finishing salt of choice is Maldon. “As soon as [Maldon salt] hits something warm it basically disintegrates [and] because it’s so thin, you can bite into that crunch of the salt,” Patel said. “It’s just beautiful; a bit expensive but a little goes a long way.” She recommends sprinkling Maldon on salads, grilled meats and fish, and on desserts for a salty-sweet flavor.
There are a variety of salts that Patel likes to cook with in addition to these staples, including pink Himalayan salt and gray salt. For those interested in trying different kinds of salt, she points out that it’s not a huge investment to taste and experiment.
Jacobsen sums it up well: “Feel free to take a chance and remind yourself that it’s probably a $5 chance that you’re going to take, so it shouldn’t kill your budget. Taste that salt next to the one you have in your cupboard at home. Salt is something that we physically need to survive; it might as well be the best.”