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These 3 Salts Are Worth Their...Well, You Know

bon Appétit logo bon Appétit 9/28/2021 Claire Saffitz, Amiel Stanek, Sarah Jampel
© Alex Lau

The best salt to cook with is the one you cook with most often. Seasoning is about consistency above all else, and picking one box and sticking with it means that a pinch today will be the same as a pinch tomorrow will be the same as a pinch next week. But what kind of salt should you buy? Should you use sea salt or kosher salt? Table salt or fleur de sel? Most types of salt you buy are at least 97.5% sodium chloride and thus nearly identical. But they vary based on how and where they’re made and what goes into that last 2.5%. Here’s an overview of three common kinds and when to use them:

© Alex Lau

What is Table Salt?

Iodized or not, table salt is milled to create small, uniform cube-shaped crystals. It has an added anti-clumping agent to keep it “free-flowing.” Cubic, granular, and very fine, this is your typical saltshaker stuff. In the U.S. it’s often enhanced with iodine (a.k.a. iodized salt), a vestige of a widespread deficiency in early-20th-century diets. Many people (read: us) think iodized salt has a metallic aftertaste and don’t prefer it for cooking.

Use it: to season pasta water; it dissolves quickly. The tiny size of the crystals can easily lead to oversalting, so make sure to sprinkle—not pour—it.

© Alex Lau

What is Kosher Salt?

This is the workhorse of restaurant kitchens: Chefs know what they’re getting with every pinch. This (usually) highly processed type gets its name from the fact that the crystals are good at drawing out moisture from meat, so it’s used in the “koshering” process. Diamond Crystal and Morton are our go-to brands because they’re cheap, consistent, and easy to pinch and sprinkle.

Use it: any time you’re seasoning during the cooking process.

© Alex Lau

What is Sea Salt?

As you might imagine, sea salt is what’s left behind when seawater evaporates. Some kinds are highly refined and pretty close to neutral in flavor; some much less so and contain minerals that give them a distinctive taste. Fine sea salt is usually easier to season with, while coarse sea salt is better for brines.

For flaky sea salt, pyramid-shaped crystals are harvested from coastal waters. They're labor-intensive to produce and expensive. Examples include fleur de sel,  Maldon, and Jacobsen, all of which are made slightly differently. You’re paying for texture and flavor, so use them as a finishing touch where they’ll be most appreciated—not in pasta water. The most prominent producer is Maldon, which sources its flakes from the waters off Essex, England. Fleur de sel refers to the delicate, fine crystals that rise to the water’s surface; the classic version is hand-collected in Guérande, France.

Use it: to add a hit of salinity and crunch to finished dishes like salads, seared meats, and chocolate desserts.

Salt + chocolate? Yes, please:

Salty Buckwheat Chocolate Chunk Cookies

© Photo by Laura Murray, Food Styling by Susan Spungen

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