Beyond your grandmother's table salt
Many varieties of gourmet salt are finding a place in the kitchens of both everyday cooks and top chefs. Salt occurs naturally around the world as the mineral halite and in seawater and saline (saltwater) lakes. All salt contains a mix of sodium and chloride. Salt may also naturally contain small amounts of other minerals, giving it variations in taste. But salt is processed and refined in many different ways, resulting in different textures and colors as well as tastes.
Whichever type of salt you enjoy, do so in moderation. Limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams a day — or 1,500 milligrams if you're age 51 or older, or if you are black, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
Table salt is the common granulated salt found in saltshakers on most dining tables. Table salt usually comes from underground salt deposits that are mined and then refined until most other minerals are removed, leaving behind pure sodium chloride. Table salt commonly has added iodine to help maintain a healthy thyroid, so it's sometimes called iodized salt. Some table salt also has other additives to keep it from absorbing moisture and to help it flow freely. Table salt is used for a range of cooking and baking.
Kosher salt is a coarser, larger grained salt that may come either from salt water or underground mines. It's traditionally used in the koshering process to cure meats but has many other uses. Kosher salt generally is free of additives, including iodine. Kosher salt adds a crunchy texture to some dishes and even to drinks — you might find it on the rim of margarita glasses or as a topping on pretzels. Kosher salt is also used for brining or marinating and enhancing the flavor of a variety of dishes, from roasts to popcorn.
Sea salt is a general term for a range of gourmet salts produced by evaporation of ocean water or water from saltwater lakes. It's less refined than other types of salt, so it retains some trace minerals that lend it a variety of tastes, textures and colors. Sea salt is typically named after the region it comes from. Sea salt is often promoted as a healthier alternative to table salt, but by weight, it has the same amount of sodium. Some sea salt may also have natural or added iodine. While sea salt may be used in baking and cooking, some cooks reserve it for final seasoning of dishes to better appreciate the flavor and texture.
Rock salt is a type of salt mined from salt deposits. Large, chunky crystals of rock salt mixed with ice help create the lower temperature needed to freeze homemade ice cream. In plank, block or brick form, rock salt may be heated to high temperatures and used to quickly cook shrimp, fish or small pieces of meat. It may also be chilled or used at room temperature as a striking bed on which to serve clams or oysters. Rock salt generally isn't considered edible. In fact, some forms of rock salt are used for de-icing roads in the wintertime.
Seasoned salt is salt mixed with herbs and spices to create different flavors — and colors — such as garlic salt, onion salt, celery salt and many others. Seasoned salt generally has slightly less sodium than does table salt, but you still must count it toward your daily sodium limit. You can sprinkle seasoned salt on many dishes for unique flavors, such as potatoes, popcorn, vegetables, salads, fish and meat.
As its name suggests, salt substitute is a replacement for regular salt. Salt substitute contains no sodium — it's made of potassium chloride, magnesium chloride or even certain amino acids (proteins). Your doctor may recommend using a salt substitute if you're on a sodium-restricted diet. But salt substitute may not be appropriate for everyone because of the possibility of getting too much potassium, so check with your doctor first. Also, check the package label to see if a particular type of salt substitute can be used in cooking and baking. Some salt substitutes can become bitter when heated. Most often, salt substitute is used at the table for seasoning.