Maldon sea salt flakes
Salt is magical. Not only because it makes our food delicious, but because it is an essential ingredient that exists on it’s own in nature. All we need is a salt lake and a sunny day and we are left with acres of sparkling crystals ready to go on our meats and margaritas. We value these crystals enough that they were used as currency in Rome (Where do you think the word salary comes from?) Salt enhances our food by doing two magical things: It boosts the impressions of aromas that accompany it, and it tames the sensation of bitterness.
The type of salt you use matters. A lot. We have become accustomed to using table salt at home and when dining out. Almost every table has a shaker on it with table salt ready to destroy your food.
Yup. I said it.
Disclaimer: This post is written under a heavy bias. I am addicted to superior salt. I love buying it, I love using it, I literally sprinkle it on everything from salad to chocolate chip cookies. Naturally, I am going to use this post to try and convince you that fine granulated table salt does not deserve you. You can do better.
This is the stuff in the salt shaker at your diner. The stuff that we used as kids to shrivel up slugs in the driveway. (That couldn’t have just been me.) The stuff that has been stripped of all its natural goodness and fluffed and primped for you with anti-clumping agents. Super white, super not-clumpy, super intense. In case you have ever been enjoying a meal and made the mistake of over-salting your food…it’s not you, it’s the salt. Because this salt is so refined and small, it is incredibly difficult to measure even with your hand. One pinch, not enough. Another pinch, not enough. Another pinch, ::SPIT:: “WHAT THE?!”. The natural minerals that give natural, raw salt its slightly grey color have been removed, thus making it the salt with the highest concentration. Break free from this traditional salt because there just ain’t nothin’ good about it.
This is the salt you should be using at your table. These salts come in flat, extended particles instead of compact, dense granules. What this means is that our tongues perceive it as milder, and our hands perceive it as WAY easier to measure. Flake salts are produced by surface evaporation, and are (usually) not stripped of any naturally-occurring minerals. Anti-clumping agents are not added because they are large enough to stay aerated on their own. They also add a very subtle crunchy texture and a burst of flavor without killing your food. So not only can you visually monitor what you are adding, but you are also enhancing the complexity of your food with an added flavor and texture, as opposed to just the sensation of “saltiness”. Maldon sea salt has the coolest shape, and texture. (Pictured above.)
Like flake salt, kosher salt also has a large particle structure (usually flakes). It is relatively pure when compared to table salt, and the size makes for great measuring (by the pinch and visually). This is the salt most used in professional/commercial kitchens for cooking and baking. It is cheap, comes in a big ol’ box, and is great for preparation. I find the texture to be too coarse for sprinkling on finished food though, so maybe keep this one in the kitchen and off the table.
Unrefined Sea Salt
These salts are produced in the same way that a vegetable crop is. The salt beds are managed and tended, eventually harvested when ready which could take up to five years. These salts have a light coating of minerals and algae which adds complexity and balance. These are normally found under the name “sel gris” or grey salt.
Fleur de Sel
“Flower of salt”. This is the special product of the sea-salt beds of Western France. Expensive, delicious, and delicate. Fleur de sel has a relatively mild flavor, and frankly I think it is pretty. Fleur de sel occurs in salt pans when the humidity and breezes are just right, and then they are delicately raked off. The algae that occurs at this very specific humidity level imparts a pleasant aroma to the salts, and the slightest cloudy hue. I always keep a container around as a finishing salt- don’t you dare cook with it!
Is one salt “better” for you than another?
Not really. This is more an argument of flavor over anything else. The differences in sodium concentration are negligible…but what isn’t is the presence of other chemicals that are not naturally-occurring. The trace amounts of anti-clumping agents won’t necessarily harm you but they certainly taste like crap. Also, if you are able to measure salt more accurately ( like with large crystals) you will probably put much less on your food which is obviously better. We eat way too much sodium in the US, and I am guilty of that too. Make sure if you’re a salt fiend like myself, that you are drinking plenty of agua.
Hope that this clarified things a bit, and if you can take away one thing…please make it be the table salt…off your table. Forever.
p.s. – Stores like T.J.Maxx and Homegoods always have awesome salts in their gourmet section on SALE. I bought a box of smoked Maldon seas salt flakes for $6. WIN.