February 23, 2006

The Salt of the Earth

Okay, so you think you know everything about salt? This most basic of seasonings actually has a lot more to it than meets the eye so don’t be so cocky...

For starters, aside from being a seasoning, salt is essential to our bodies and is one of the most basic components to the earth (remember—the world is 2/3 covered by ocean salt water, after all). When added to food, it not only helps bring out the flavor, but it also draws out the moisture. Furthermore, salt is a natural preservative for foods. And did you know that at one point in time salt was considered so valuable that it was used as currency? So salt is actually quite a versatile and interesting seasoning. Who knew?

So what are the various types of salt, you ask? Well, here is a summary:

Table Salt
This is your most commonly found salt—think salt shakers at the diner, if you will. Table salt is pulled from dried up underground salt deposits left by salt lakes. It does not dissolve as easily as other salts, which makes it taste stronger since it sits on your tongue longer. It also includes additives to help prevent caking in damp weather. These additives cause a harsher taste than that of other salts. Therefore, table salt is best used in cooking and baking where the taste blends in and not as a finishing salt.

Kosher Salt
Kosher salt is basically table salt that has been rolled into “salt flakes.” The shape of the flakes allows for it to better pull moisture out of food such as meats. Furthermore, the greater surface area allows for it to provide a good strong salt flavor without over salting. Kosher salt does not contain additives so the taste is more pure than that of table salt. As a result, this inexpensive salt is best used for both cooking and as a finishing salt. It also tends to be the most widely used salt by chefs.

Sea Salt
A bit chunkier of a salt is sea salt. As you might guess, it is obtained from ocean water deposits that have dried up leaving behind salt crystals. Sea salt tends to be the priciest of the various salts since it is more difficult to obtain. I primarily cook with a cheaper sea salt that is commonly found in the grocery store. However, more expensive gourmet sea salt should only be used sparingly as a finishing salt because its unique taste is lost when used in cooking (there is no need to waste this precious salt if you can’t taste it!).

The following are some various types of sea salts:

Gray Salt (Sel Gris)
If you watch Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello, you most likely have noticed that he is always using gray salt. What is it? Gray salt is found on the Atlantic coast of France. This slightly moist salt gets its light grey color from the clay in the salt flats. Its taste is bold and pure.

Fleur de Sel
This sea salt actually is created from gray salt only when the weather conditions are just right (hence the higher price tag since the supply is not as great). Under these specific conditions the fleur de sel (“flower of salt”) crystals grow from the grey salt. For every 80 pounds of grey salt created, only one pound of fleur de sel is found. For Christmas my mother gave me a bottle of this salt (some people get iPods, I get salt!), and I LOVE it. There is truly a better taste to this salt than that of your normal, everyday salt so I save it for special meals as a finishing salt. Sometimes I dip my finger in it and just have a little taste of the salt on its own (I have also been known to lick the inside of microwave popcorn bags, but whatever). Fleur de sel’s crystals are very delicate, which makes it a delight to taste not only for its flavor but also its texture.

Maldon Sea Salt
This English salt is created by boiling ocean water, which causes pyramid-shaped hollowed crystals that crumble easily between your fingers. This unique shape allows for a delicate, light salt flavor.

So there you go! There is more to salt than you thought, huh?



Anonymous gemma said...

Actually the word 'salary' even comes from salt for precisely the reason you mention. Interesting huh? Another fact that I have learned about salt ... while the taste/texture/price of different salts can be different there is no salt that can be considered 'healthier'. Salt is salt is salt when it comes to blood pressure :(

5:22 PM  

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