A Beginner’s Guide to Seasoning Salts
The difference between an incredible restaurant-worthy meal and a mundane one can really all come down to the use of salt. In my mind, salt falls into two categories: everyday and special. Special doesn’t mean unique color or exceptional mineral content or whatever, though. What draws the defining line for me is the texture of the salt. There’s the reliable salt on my counter that I reach for when I’m making dinner on a Tuesday or measure into my batch of chocolate chip cookies… then there’s the interesting stuff. You know, the beautiful flakes that drift delicately over fresh sliced tomatoes or grace the tops of luscious homemade caramels and dark chocolate brownies. Special salt is the stuff that I break out when I spend a Sunday making soft pretzels and need an interesting crunch and burst of salty flavor. So how can you make the best meals ever? By studying up on the best types of salt for every situation.
Everyday Salts (And Why It’s Important to Use the Right One)
Everyday salts are the ones you should keep handy while cooking. You need one, maybe two, from this category to be your reliable go-to for seasoning that weeknight pot of soup or to precisely measure when baking. You may even keep a shaker on the table for last-minute sprinkling (if that’s your style).
Sea salts come from, you guessed it, the sea. It's still harvested from ocean water in traditional ways. Mayan Sea Salt has a clean flavor and an interesting tie to the ancient Mayan way of life. This sea salt has long been harvested off the coast of Guatemala. It is estimated that up to 30 tons a day were transported into the interior of Mesoamerica to supply the Mayan people.
French Fleur de Sel is considered by some to be the best salt in the world. Sea salt in France is still harvested in the traditional way, by drying seawater in shallow pools. As the water evaporates, crystals form. If wind, sun, and temperature conditions are right, bright white crystals will form on the surface. This Fleur de Sel, the flower of the salt, must be harvested quickly before it precipitates back into the water. This natural sea salt contains no additives or preservatives and has high levels of magnesium and calcium.
We have to mention the table salt that’s on dinner tables, in salt packets, and pouring out of cardboard canisters you found on the bottom shelf of the grocery store. The crystals of table salt are super fine and sometimes include iodine (hence: iodized salt). This should not be your everyday salt.
First of all, iodized salt has a metallic note to it that isn’t very pleasant, no matter how it’s used. Iodized or not, it’s difficult to get the tried-and-true pinch of table salt because it's so fine that it just filters through your fingers like sand—and everyone knows that trying to season by upending your shaker is just a recipe for loose-lidded, accidental piles of salt disaster. If you’re using table salt, you’re getting more salt per teaspoon (stick with me here). Because of the tiny granules, when you scoop some table salt, it packs in and fills all those spaces completely, so it can actually make your dishes taste too salty!
If you’re used to using table salt in recipes or if you’re set in your fine salty ways, Pink Himalayan Sea Salt is your new best friend. For those recipes that require precision, it's easy to measure. The fine, dry salt shines in applications where you want even coverage and distribution, like popcorn or home fries. It also packs a flavor punch, thanks to the variety of minerals found naturally in the salt.
If I can ask one thing, it’s that you don’t confuse “special” with “special occasion.” These might be specialty salts but they deserve a place on your weekday fried egg just as much as on a dinner party showstopper. Use vibrantly colored Hawaiian Black Lava or Red Gold salts in place of your "normal" salt on buttered sourdough bread, to top roasted veggies, or sprinkle on fruits like watermelon. They will pack the same flavor punch and look pretty impressive!
Perhaps the most beloved of the specialty salts are the crisp, flaky types (we can’t argue; we adore them too). Maldon is loved by foodies for it’s giant, square crystals and you’ve probably seen it at gourmet candy shops on caramels. If you’re missing the tinted salt though, try out Murray River Salt Flakes, which are apricot-hued and equally flaky. This Australian salt has a slight mineral flavor, similar to Himalayan salt, and is great on seafood and other savory dishes, but I've been known to put it on top of my chocolate chip cookies too.
Bonus: Seasoning Salts
Did I say there were two types of salts? Well, consider this a bonus. Seasoning salts combine salt with other ingredients to enhance the overall dish. Think of them as shortcuts to great flavor. Take Makrut Lime Sea Salt for example. Sure, you could top your avocado toast with some Mayan Salt, but it’s so much better when you do it with a tangy, citrus-y sprinkle. If you’re grilling meat, season it with smoked sea salt to add an extra hint of woody flavor. Supreme Shallot Salt is my personal fave (in place of garlic salt or onion salt) for anything savory—from chicken salad to cooked grains. If you’re a truffle fan, you should definitely keep a bottle of the fancy stuff with you at all times. There are a million options (well, close) so I’ll leave the important choices up to you.