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39 responses to “Why Salt Matters”

  1. Marvin

    Great article! I hadn’t looked as closely at salts myself either. This is definite excellent food for thought.

    I see some salt experimentation in my future!

    Thank you!

  2. Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife

    Okay, having read your post, I’m marginally less skeptical about fancy salts. My cheapness, however, remains completely unaffected. I won’t spring for expensive salts. I’m happy with kosher, and would like to remain happy with it. That said, ever tried smoking your own salt? I wonder if kosher salt could be smoked in an open pan. One might be able to custom smoke different salts with different woods, or different combinations of woods. Hmm…

  3. Rachel @ Dog Island Farm

    I had never thought about salt before. Thanks for this!

  4. Melissa

    Great post! I got a bottle of pink salt and another gray salt a while back and I haven’t been sure of how to use them. Thanks for the tips.

  5. Stanley E. Williams

    Superb article.. been using sea salt from Spain. Any comments?

  6. Andy G

    I, too, was dismissive of fancy-dancy salts until a friend gave me some 4oz packets she picked up from a food dealer buddy. I have always been one who shunned away from salt in favor of pepper or some other flavor but I now recognize the importance of good salt in making a dish “pop”. Formerly, I used salt mainly in soups or when chemically required (as in baking). Now, my household goes through it like any other seasoning. I love to use grey or green sea salt on popcorn and oak wood-smoked salt from Oaxaca (relatively cheap in the bulk bin at my local grocery) is my secret weapon in barbecue sauces and jerky. Not all rare/expensive salt is worth it though. I tried some Himalyan pink salt and found it to have a strong “gypsum” flavor. I think it could easily ruin a dish and too much might make you queasy. The lesson I learned is that many mineral salts contain high level of other salts, not just NaCl. Maybe good for preserving meats but not so good on popcorn. Kosher is definitely the best all-around salt (hard to beat the price too) but I could eat Irish green with a spoon.

  7. Joshua

    What an interesting post. I’m going to put a touch of that smoked salt on a couple of teal I plan to roast. Wish me luck.

  8. J.R. Young

    I love salts, I find it nearly impossible not to indulge in varieties or blends I come across. They can be used in so many ways the possibilities are endless. A porcini salt to frame a mushroom risotto, a saffron salt to accent a paella, a blend of celtic sea salt with fresh herbs to crust a roast, or a simple black salt to finish a dish and add some color. I almost need another drawer in my kitchen to house my salts….and let’s not forget the salt cooking block.

    The other night I took some popcorn, tossed it with a warmed caramel and hazelnut spread (nutella), added some smoked salt and put it all on top of vanilla ice cream. It was gluttonous, but delicious.

  9. gigi

    I have used various salts for different results for years. At the moment one of my favourites is Mount Zero – Pink lake Salt, hand harvested & air dried. And profits go to indigenous community that harvested it. Whats not to like?!

  10. Lana

    I have always been attracted to the colors, the shapes, the translucency of the crystals of different salts, but like many, dismissed using them as pure luxury and snobbishness. I am glad for this post. Now I don’t have to experiment with the expensive lovelies – I will trust you and your experience:)
    I am actually looking forward to trying these smoked salts as soon as I talk myself into buying them. Thanks!

  11. Dan K

    Hank. Have you ever tried Korean Bamboo Salt?

  12. Suburban Bushwacker

    Hank
    Let me join the chorus of unbelievers you have swayed, you’ve got me intrigued

    What is it that makes the black one black?

    SBW

  13. Funder

    Ok, if you swear there’s a real difference, I will experiment with salts. I am right where you were a couple years ago – kosher salt is better because the flakes are shaped differently, but what could possibly be different when salt is almost entirely sodium chloride? Good point that it doesn’t go bad, so I can slowly buy salt that’ll last for years. Thanks :)

  14. Nate

    Awesome!

  15. mike

    Hank,
    great post.
    this brought back to mind my first culinary class and salt tasting day.
    all of it just tasted like, well…salt and I thought the whole exercize was
    pretty dumb. (I still believe that the chef’s at the school over salted everything.)
    now, as I cook for myself, and family and friends, I like playing with the different salts. love the Hawaiian’s for the colors. love the smoked on a nice salmon steak.

  16. E. Nassar

    Thank you for this balanced and thoughtful article on the proper use of specialty salts Hank. Dropping handfuls of grey salt into pasta cooking water is rediculous. Bitterman goes way overboard in his condemnation of “mass produced” salt. So much so that I do not think he is doing “artisanal” salts any favors. He comes off as a bit pompous honestly (he was a guest on Splendid Table a few months back). Those interested in specialty salts should just read your entry instead. Kosher salt in particular is great for 99% of the applications. I only use fleur de sel or Maldon as a last minute finishing salt and mostly to add textural interest (on a sliced tomato for example). I love the idea of the black lava salt on white dishes though and will seek it out.

  17. Chris

    I’m convinced…

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  19. Eric

    We’ve been harvesting salt on Moloka’i for a few years now. Mid summer the seawater sits on the lava rocks on the ocean, dries out in the scorching sun, and leaves beds of wet salt. We scoop it up, lay it out over night, then vac seal it in the morning. It’s strong, sometimes perfectly fishy, and wonderful.

  20. Heather

    I must admit, I’m a salt snob. I’ve bought a number of things from your friend at ‘The Meadow’ and love them all. I’ve used the black sulpherous salt in tofu as a sort of ‘fake’ egg salad for my vegan friends and love any of the pink and grey sea salt. I also have several salt blocks which are terrific for cooking on.

    Great article, as usual!

  21. homegrown countrygirl

    Great article, Hank! Thanks so much for sacrificing your own arteries to taste test a bunch of different salts for all of us! I really appreciate the info. and also your recomendations. And WOW… Holly’s salt pictures are fantastic!!!

  22. Salanth

    You cook Canada Goose? Where do you get them from?

  23. Swamp Thing

    “Salt” by Mark Kurlansky, is a classic, although verrrrrrrrrrrry long. Also highly recommend his “The Big Oyster,” the story of how NYC was built on the wild oyster fishery.

    Good post, and I’ve used a few fancy salts, but my chemistry background (2 years worth in college) keeps me feeling like all the other stuff is just additives/byproduct of whatever the native rock may be. Doesn’t mean it’s not interesting. But yeah, “candy corn and hay.” WTF.

  24. Dan K

    Never tried bamboo salt myself, but I think its supposed to taste sulfuric. It is famous in my home country of Korea. I think I will try some from atthemeadow.com you recommend.

    Thanks.

    http://www.atthemeadow.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1_28_131&products_id=666

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  26. Rachel

    Thanks for the great article. I recently tried a recipe for salted pumpkin caramels that used fleur de sel and I was shocked at how spectacular these came out. Everyone started with Ewwww and switched to raves after trying them. The salt made all the difference. I am going to try the sel gris next. :-)

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  28. Laura Griffin

    This was such a cool article to read… It’s true, there are so many types of sea salts out there, and it can be difficult to distinguish between the ones that are worth the higher price and those that aren’t. Question for you: since sea salt doesn’t contain the same amount of iodine as the commercial varieties we all grew up with, replacing that iodine can be tricky if you don’t eat enough of the vegetables and fishes that contain it. What do you think of a sea salt blend that has dulse (aka Sea Lettuce) flakes in it, as a way to supplement that iodine?

  29. Story

    Excellent post, Hank. I was once a nay-sayer, even after hearing similar thoughts from other cooks. It wasn’t until I had crostini with fresh ricotta and a fruity olive oil sprinkled with Himalayan pink sea salt that I saw the beauty and the taste a special salt can bring to a dish. So simple yet such a change in the presentation and the taste of the dish.

  30. happiness is just a lick away

    hank,

    loved the post! please don’t take the long comment as a sermon for the ministry of salt. i recently became a purveyor of artisan sea salts, ultra premium peppercorns & organic cane sugars. we are the only source in arizona and online for the purchase of these artisan salts, cane sugars and peppercorns by the ounce (a salt bar). this approach allows many who may not be willing to invest in a couple hundred dollars worth of salt, to try as many as 8 different salts for as little as $21 plus shipping. for those new to sea salt as a flavor enhancer, that’s a great place to start!

    unlike the meadow, we do not have a retail space. we are only available at local farmers markets in arizona and do a great deal of educating along with the sampling and salt tasting we do. we tell perspective buyers that it’s much like a wine tasting and that “happiness is just a lick away”.

    for me too, bitterman’s book has been an insightful addition to what i thought i already knew. i am still intrigued by the many who feel like “pricey” salt should be left on the shelf. salt is the least expensive way to improve the flavor profile of any meal. yes, solid cooking must be at the foundation, but its likely the foodie who will most appreciate the subtle nuances. as for my kosher salt, i was thinking i might send it to family back east this winter so that they can use it to melt the ice off the driveway. not because the flavor of the artisan salts is more desirable, primarily because salt without mineral content is not. its the inclusion of those “additives” as some call them, that make the most significant difference as you have noted with the fiore. but its more than just flavor that is affected.

    if you have ever kept a salt water aquarium, you know that you cannot use table or kosher salt to mix your “salt” water. if you do, the fish will die in no more than two to three days. they need the approximately 2% mineral content to help process the sodium chloride. even more interesting is the fact that fish physiology and human physiology are not that different when it comes to our ability to process salt. we too need the minerals. and as for the anti-caking agents….they are all aluminum derivatives. ask your local alzheimer’s authority about the link between that disease and aluminum.

    keep experimenting, the door has only just opened! sou-vide butternut squash was a new one for me….

    best regards,

    aaron eckburg
    co-founder
    golbsalt.com

  31. Barbi_lynn

    Great article Himalayan salt has become my go to salt and sparked my interest in trying different types of salt. I do find that the quality of a salt requires less quantity to flavor your dish.

  32. Patricia

    I’m sending this article to a long time friend who thinks salt is salt. Period. I first discovered the flavors of salt when we visited southern France and bought some fleur de sel de Camargue, right from the source. When I ran out a few years later, the friend I had traveled with bought me some as a present and we were both surprised to open it, sniff, and smell the sea. Since that first introduction, I’ve tried many others, and the holiday exchange of salt has become a tradition that adds spice to our lives.

  33. Phillip

    I’ve recently become a salt enthusiast. I was introduced to RealSalt from Utah…from then on I knew that table salt would never suffice again. I’ve since found Celtic to be the absolute best. It feels like the ocean in my mouth. Table salt now tastes bland – like a McDonald’s french fry.

    Lately i’ve been broke and using $2 Italian sea salt from BigLots. It feels like a lower quality version of Celtic and it doesn’t get “wet”. I’m very pleased for the price.

    The sea salt sold in most grocery stores tends to be refined from what I read. Meaning – all trace minerals removed. Also, yellow prussiate of soda is Sodium ferrocyanide. this means it is similar to cyanide? It’s an anti- clumping agent found in grocery store salt. Completely non-toxic, but creepy nonetheless.

  34. Robert

    Bought a bottle of Mediterranean sea salt years back, tasted it, cooked with it and never went back. I use Hawaiian salt and alea( since i do live in Hawaii lol), but mostly for poke (raw fish dish) and things like that. But these other salts – its just amazing, the subtle and bold flavors, its like discovering a new fine wine or something lol. Must find some of that smoked salt!!

    Great article, thanks for sharing!

  35. Judge

    Great article!

    I was looking up “what is finishing salt?” and this article came up. Well written and great information.

    Thank you

  36. Robyn

    Wow- Adam perry lang introduced me to the concept of finishing salts in his book “charred and Scruffed”- this reiterates why all salts are not created equal and why finishing salts can make a good meal great. Thank you for sharing!!!

  37. Stephan Z.

    This year I received a gift from a friend who owns a home in Portland, it was a collection of 4 finishing salts from The Meadow, the only problem is that they were not labled, so, while I have enjoyed playing with them, finishing everything from duck to filet mignon with them I wouldn’t know how to order more. so I guess it will require a visit to Mr. Bitterman later this year. Darn, lol.

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