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Salt Reference Guide

If you’re a somewhat sophisticated cook, you’ve probably encountered recipes that call for more than just conventional table salt. These days, a host of “gourmet” salts can be found on grocery store shelves or at specialty food stores, enticing cooks to try a little something different next time they create a new dish or follow a new recipe.

Most of these unusual salts fall into the category known as “sea salts”. Sea salts are defined as salt that is obtained by the natural evaporation of ocean water. It is generally gathered in man-made pools located near natural shore lines. Most of them come from the Mediterranean, the North Sea, and parts of the Atlantic, especially off the coast of Brittany (France).

They are not pure sodium chloride but, rather, they contain some trace minerals like iron and magnesium. Unlike table salt, they also does not contain any sugar. Sea salts also tend to be not as salty as traditional table salt.

Health gurus will tell you that these sea salts are much better for you than standard table salt and can provide you with many of the minerals you need in your diet on a daily basis.
Though your supermarket certainly won’t have all the salt types listed below and you may need to make a trek to a specialty store for some, here are a few that you might want to consider for your next foray into the world of creating new tastes.

o Kosher salt – This is probably one of the most common alternative forms of salt you’ll find in the supermarket. It is named as such because it adheres to Jewish dietary laws and is used to prepare meat according to those guidelines. It is this type of salt that you’ll usually find on the rim of margarita glasses and on top of soft and hard pretzels.

o Coarse Salt – This is a larger grain version of classic sea salt and is often used by chefs to form a salty crust on a variety of meats and seafood. It is also widely used by chefs because it can be measured more easily with the fingers than traditional table salt, making it easier to season soups, stews, and other foods to their liking. It comes in a variety of brands and colors.

o Grey Salt – Cooking experts note that this has become one of the most popular “alternative” salts on the market. Moist and unrefined, it is generally harvested by hand from the coastal regions of France, making it a rather expensive product and very similar to Celtic Salt, which is harvested in the same manner. Considered by many to be the finest salt available, it is used for flavoring or to add a crust to meats or seafood. A little goes a long way.

o Black Salt – Actually a pinkish-brown color and not really black at all, this type of salt is a necessity in traditional Indian cooking. Available in fine or course grain, it has a sulfuric taste, which can seem a little strange if you’re not accustomed to that strong flavor.

o Fleur de Sel – This is, by far, the most expensive form of sea salt on the market.Depending on where it’s purchased, a half-pound can cost upwards of about $30. Hand harvested by French farmers known as “paludiers”, it is very moist and its crystals are generally smaller than other related sea salts. It is used in a manner similar to herbs; it is sprinkled on food immediately before serving for best results.

o Hawaiian Sea Salt – A beautiful red color due to the additional of a mineral rich in iron oxide, this form of salt is mellow and works well on beef and pork. It can be found in a variety of traditional Hawaiian dishes including the popular Kalua Pig as well as in a dish known as Poke, a side dish similar to sashimi. It is fairly affordable but tough to find in supermarkets on the mainland, usually prompting orders over the internet.

o Smoked Sea Salt – One of the newest gourmet salts on the scene, this very coarse salt is smoked over wood fires to give it its unique flavor. It has become popular in the world of grilling and can be used on a variety of meats and seafood.