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Is all Salt the Same?

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Discover the unique properties, nutritional values and culinary uses of each salt type.

Salt, a vital ingredient in the culinary world, comes in various forms and types, each offering unique properties and flavours. Not only is it essential for enhancing taste, but salt also plays a critical role in maintaining bodily functions and is essential to the human body.  It has received a bad rap over the years since it is used in a lot of ultra processed foods.  However, in this article, I want to explore the top 11 varieties of salt, their nutritional values, cultural significance, culinary applications, and the importance of salt in our diet.

Cautionary note about salt

The modern diet often contains too much salt and sodium, it is used in ready meals as a preservative and because it enhances the flavour of the product. In order to be healthy, it’s recommended by the World Health Organisation to limit your salt intake to around 5 grams per day, which equates to a little under 1 teaspoon of salt for the whole day!

  1. Table Salt

Properties and Nutritional Values: Table salt is the most common type of salt, where it has been mined from salt deposits.  Table salt is finely ground and often iodised to prevent iodine deficiency. It usually contains anti-caking agents to keep it free flowing. However, it is highly processed and many of the natural minerals in the salt are lost in this process.

Culinary Uses: Widely used in everyday cooking and baking, table salt is a staple in households worldwide. Its fine texture makes it ideal for seasoning and preserving food.

  1. Sea Salt (inc. Flaked Sea Salt)

Properties and Nutritional Values: Harvested through the evaporation of seawater, sea salt retains trace minerals like magnesium, calcium, and potassium, which give it a distinct flavour and nutritional value, YES, salt has nutritional value!

Culinary Uses: Sea salt is prized in culinary applications for its coarse texture and briny taste. It’s often used in finishing dishes, where its crunchy texture can be appreciated, such as on salads and grilled meats.  I prefer the flaked sea salt as it is more delicate and easier to dissolve when sprinkled on food.

There is far less processing and refining that goes into the production of sea salt, and according to the Mayo Clinic it may retain more of naturally occurring trace minerals. The minerals not only enrich the salt, but also add a more unique flavour that will change based on which ocean, sea, or saltwater lake the water originated.

  1. Himalayan Pink Salt

Properties and Nutritional Values: Mined from ancient salt deposits in the Himalayas, this salt contains over 80 trace minerals, including iron, which gives it a pink hue. Himalayan salt undergoes very little processing which is why it retains so many of its nutritional values and therefore my go-to.

Culinary Uses: Popular in gourmet cooking, Himalayan pink salt is used for seasoning and finishing dishes. It can also be used for cooking on salt blocks, which impart a subtle flavour to the food.

Pink Himalayan salt is often used in beauty products as it is believed that using salt to wash or treat your skin can remove dead skin cells, reduce toxins and dirt, prevent the build-up of skin oils, and leave your skin brighter and smoother.

 

  1. Rock Salt

Rock salt is essentially sea salt. It’s the same both chemically and nutritionally.

The only significant difference is its size and shape. Rock salt has already formed a rock before it is gathered, while sea salt forms into grains during the evaporation process.

  1. Fleur de Sel

Properties and Nutritional Values: Known as the “flower of salt,” fleur de sel is harvested from the surface of salt ponds in specific weather conditions. It has a delicate, flaky texture and a high mineral content.

Culinary Uses: Used as a finishing salt, fleur de sel adds a subtle crunch and a burst of flavour to dishes such as roasted vegetables, chocolates, and caramels.

  1. Celtic Sea Salt

Properties and Nutritional Values: Also known as sel gris, the grey salt. Celtic sea salt is harvested from the coastal regions of France, though mainly Brittany. The combination of the sand and natural clay in the region produces a mineral-rich salt that retains its moistness.

Gray salt has similar properties to Himalayan pink salt and is often used in similar skincare products: creams, lotions, moisturizers, and exfoliants. However, due to the fact that it’s raked and gathered by hand, it’s more expensive and less widely available than Himalayan pink salt.

Culinary Uses: This moist salt is used in both cooking and as a finishing salt. Its robust flavour enhances the taste of seafood, meats, and vegetables.

 

  1. Hawaiian Black Salt

Black salt also comes from the Hawaiian Islands, where the black volcanic soil mixes with the evaporating water to form black crystals.

Black salt is high in activated charcoal, which is not only excellent for eradicating impurities and toxins from the body, but also improves digestion.

Kala namak, is also a form a black salt that originates from India. The high sulphur content and taste of kala namak makes it a digestive aid, much like Hawaiian black salt.

Properties and Nutritional Values: Hawaiian black salt, or black lava salt, is a sea salt mixed with activated charcoal, which adds a unique earthy flavour and a dramatic black colour. It is not only good for eradicating impurities and toxins from the body, but also improves digestion.

Culinary Uses: This salt is often used for finishing dishes, adding a striking visual contrast to dishes like sushi, seafood, and salads.

  1. Hawaiian Red Salt

Red salt is a type of salt that comes also originates from the Hawaiian Islands.

Its unique red colour is derived from alaea, the volcanic clay unique to the islands. It’s formed when seawater gets trapped in tidal pools, and as the water evaporates, the salt crystals mix with the clay.

Red salt is believed to have the highest concentration of trace minerals, particularly iron. It’s often recommended to combat iron deficiencies.

Properties and Nutritional Values: it gets its distinctive red colour from the Hawaiian volcanic clay (alaea) mixed with the salt, adding iron oxide.

Culinary Uses: Traditionally used in Hawaiian cooking, this salt is perfect for seasoning pork, fish, and even for preserving foods.

  1. Smoked Salt

Properties and Nutritional Values: Smoke salt is basically sea salt that has been smoked at low temperature over coal beds. Luckily, the smoking process doesn’t change the salt’s mineral composition, merely its flavour. Smoked salt has a light, smoky flavour (and a tan or gray colour) that adds a depth of unique flavour to dishes. Health-wise, however, it’s no different from sea salt.

Culinary Uses: This salt adds a smoky depth to dishes, making it ideal for seasoning grilled meats, roasted vegetables, and even popcorn.

  1. Persian Blue Salt

Properties and Nutritional Values: Mined from salt deposits in Iran, this rare salt has a unique blue colour due to the presence of sylvinite. It contains potassium, calcium, and other minerals. Persian blue salt is beautiful but incredibly rare, not to mention very expensive.

Culinary Uses: Used as a finishing salt, Persian blue salt adds a delicate crunch and a slightly sweet, mild flavour to dishes such as seafood, salads, and fine desserts. However, what makes this salt so unique is its slight sweetness. It’s not only rich in minerals, but there is a hint of sweet taste that adds a complex flavour to whatever dish it’s included in or sprinkled on.

 

  1. Rock Salt

Rock salt is essentially sea salt. It’s the same both chemically and nutritionally.

The only significant difference is its size and shape. Rock salt has already formed a rock before it is gathered, while sea salt forms into grains during the evaporation process.

The Importance of Salt in the Diet

Salt is crucial for maintaining fluid balance, nerve function, and muscle contractions in the body. However, excessive salt intake is linked to hypertension and cardiovascular diseases including a higher risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease. The NHS recommends adults consume no more than 6 grams of salt per day (about 1 teaspoon). Balancing salt intake by choosing minimally processed salts and incorporating them mindfully into your diet can help maintain health without compromising on flavour.

Conclusion

Understanding the unique characteristics of these salt varieties can enhance your culinary creations and dietary choices. Whether it’s the mineral-rich Himalayan pink salt or the flavourful fleur de sel, each type of salt brings something special to the table. Moderation is key in my opinion, and by using these salts thoughtfully, you can enjoy their benefits while maintaining a healthy diet.  My personal preference is not one single salt, daily I probably default to Himalayan salt and flaked sea salt.  In certain types on Indian dishes I use black salt.

References

NHS. (2023). Salt: the facts.

Mayo Clinic. (2023). Sodium: How to tame your salt habit.

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