Salt has always been an important part of our diets. Though doctors now warn us against eating too much salt, we do need some salt in order to survive. Salt contains electrolytes that allow our cells to generate energy, strengthen their cell walls, and contribute to numerous other functions that keep our bodies healthy.
Salt is one of the original four basic flavors recognized by our sense of taste. In addition to its flavor, it also played an important role in food preservation throughout much of human history. It was so important, it even found its way into folk stories and religious rituals.
Today, we bake with it, sprinkle it on our food, add it to sports drinks, use it to make ice cream, and more. But should you choose table salt, sea salt, kosher salt, or some other kind of salt? Here’s a look at some of the most widely used kinds of salt, how they’re made, and what they’re good for:
Table Salt: This fine, white, powdery salt is the most widely used kind. You’ll find it in shakers in most restaurants and homes. Table salt is usually made from rock salt mined from the earth. The salt is then refined to remove traces of other naturally occurring minerals. Chemical additives may then be added to prevent clumping. Since the 1920s, iodine has been added back into most table salt, after it was found that it could easily cure iodine deficiency, which can lead to birth defects and hyperthyroidism. Table salt is generally the best choice for baking, because its fine texture allows it to dissolve easily and be measured accurately.
Kosher Salt: This large, coarse, flaky salt is made from evaporated brine (salt water). While the word “kosher” generally refers to foods that are made in accordance with the dietary laws of the Orthodox Jewish faith, the word is actually misleading in this case, because almost all salt is technically kosher. Kosher salt is more accurately known as “koshering salt,” because it is rubbed on meat to remove surface blood, as required by kosher laws. Kosher salt is popular with chefs, especially for meat recipes, because it is easy to sprinkle onto foods using just your fingers. Because its large grains do not dissolve as easily as table salt, and make it difficult to measure accurately, it is not often used for baking. Kosher salt does not contain additives or iodine.
Sea Salt: As the name suggests, sea salt comes from the ocean. It is collected when seawater evaporates and leaves behind a salty residue. Sea salt comes in a variety of textures, from fine and powdery like table salt to coarse and flaky like kosher salt. Regardless of the texture, however, sea salt is not highly processed like standard table salt, and contains many naturally occurring trace minerals, such as iodine, magnesium, and potassium. Many sea salt proponents say these minerals make it more flavorful than table salt. Others simply prefer to eat foods that are less processed, without chemical additives. Because it can be bought in a choice of textures, it can be used for a variety of purposes. It is generally more expensive than either table salt or kosher salt.
Himalayan Salt: This coarse pinkish salt comes from rock salt mines in Asia. Like table salt, it comes from the earth (though all salt mines originated from ocean salt at one time), but like sea salt, it is unrefined, leaving its natural mineral components in place. The rich pink color is a result of such trace elements, including iron. While it, too, can be purchased in a choice of textures, it is often sold in relatively large, coarse rocks, to be used in salt grinders.