The Truth About Salts

I’ll be honest. Salt’s kinda had me stymied. Table salt. Kosher salt. Sea salt. They have different names and seem to be favored in different recipes or different cooking techniques, so there much be some difference, right?. But I’ve never known what that difference was. Well, let’s remove the mystery. 

What’s the difference?

Truth is….there’s not much. ALL salt is basically about 100% percent sodium chloride (that’s NaCl for you chemistry nerds!), with a few trace elements thrown in to prevent caking. etc.

The difference is not is what they are made of, but in the size and shape of their grains. And this impacts how you use them. Up close, regular table salt has grains that are like uniform, mini cubes. Kosher salt has larger grains with irregular edges. Sea salt is more like kosher salt, sometimes a little flakier.

Can I use them the same way?

Nope, sorry. The differences in grain size does impact how we tend to use each kind. That’s why you’ll see table salt used in some recipes and kosher salt used in others. In general, regular sea salt is more often used to add flavor to a dish while cooking. With it’s bigger, coarser grains, kosher salt tends to be used more to add crunch and flavor.

Measuring each is NOT the same. Because regular table salt is smaller and more uniform in size, the crystals tend to “fit” together much better; so you can fit more of their crystals into a volumetric measure like a measuring cup. So, in general, you’ll get about twice as much saltiness from a cup of table salt than you will from the others. 

Finishing salts are those that are intended to be used toward the end of cooking or even at the table. The more delicate, flakier salts actually kind of melt on your tongue. Kosher salt’s bigger grains can add some crunch (and flavor of course) to your dish.

Is Kosher Salt Actually Kosher?

In reality pretty much all salt is kosher. The name “kosher salt” originated from the salt’s use during the “koshering” process of meat preparation. It’s larger crystals are more effective at drawing out liquid from meat during the koshering process. That’s all.

Now I will say kosher salt does tend to be preferred more by chefs. Why? Its coarser grains make it a little easier to handle with your fingers, measuring by touch and the crunchiness adds some texture to meat.

And by the way, do you now why chefs tend to salt foods from what seems like impossibly high levels (instead of a few inches above the dish)? Evenness. Sprinkling salt from a height provides a more even distribution of salt. Try it. It really works!

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So, in the end just remember that chemically all salts are pretty much the same. The differences are mostly in the shape of the grains and, therefore, they tend to be used in different ways. The difference is not what they are, but instead how we use them.