9 Types of Salt and How to Cook with Each
Whether mined in the Himalayas or harvested off the coast of Brittany, all salts are sodium chloride, and all can make most food taste more delicious—or way too salty. Red or black, kosher or Celtic, salt encourages the release of food molecules into the air, bringing out aroma. Plus, salt can suppress bitterness and bring out sweetness, so it balances and enhances other flavors.
But which one is best mixed into a vegetable sauté or sprinkled across a warm chocolate chip cookie? Our food team—editors Caitlin O’Malley and Ana Hito—explains that there are three major types of salt: table, kosher, and sea. And the differences lie primarily in grain size and texture. “Knowing which type to use for what can significantly improve your dishes,” says O’Malley. This guide (with accompanying cooking tips) should be all you need to choose the perfect salt, no matter what you’re cooking.
The three salts that everybody should have in their kitchen.
Maldon Sea Salt Flakes
Finishing salt adds a final punch of flavor and crunch to dishes once they’re done. And Maldon is the king of these: Its perfectly flaky, soft texture makes it the industry standard for finishing dishes because it’s thin and delicate. GP keeps a tin on her desk.
“Maldon flakes look like perfect geodes. Chefs often crush it down to break up the size as they’re sprinkling it over a dish.” —O’Malley
Kitchen tip: Before you serve, nearly everything can be finished with Maldon, including anything grilled, sautéed, or fried (salt it immediately when it comes out of the hot oil).
It’s called kosher salt not because it is kosher but because it is the type of salt that is used on meat in the koshering process. Its size and texture (coarser than table salt) are ideal for absorption, as well as for pinching and sprinkling. It’s preferred over table salt for everyday cooking by chefs and industrial kitchens.
Kitchen tip: Use it to evenly season your food during cooking, to brine meats, or to cure egg yolks.
Table salt is highly refined, usually iodized, and contains anticaking agents to prevent clumping. Because it’s heavily processed, it’s got a sharp flavor that makes it easy to oversalt dishes.
“If you’re at a diner and they undersalt your fries, use the salt shaker. Otherwise, though, we don’t generally use table salt for cooking, except occasionally for baking when we need a finer, granulated salt.” —O’Malley
You don’t need to have them in your kitchen, but these extra salts add texture, color,
and variety to your dishes.
Sel Gris and Fleur de Sel
Both of these sea salts come from France and share a similar moist texture, but they’re harvested differently. Sel gris (also known as Celtic salt) is large, coarse, and grey. Fleur de sel (flower of salt), on the other hand, is round and delicate.
“Fleur de sel flakes are small, so I love it on a piece of toast with butter because it seeps into all the nooks and crannies.” —Hito
Kitchen tip: Both salts are best used as finishing salt for fish, seafood, caramels, chocolate chip cookies, and other sweets. A sprinkle gives punches of flavor throughout the bite, so it’s fantastic on something like an arugula salad or sprinkled over an egg.
Maldon Smoked Sea Salt
Smoked salts come in different flavors based on the type of wood used, and Maldon Smoked Sea Salt is nice and mild.
“You can use smoked sea salt the same way you use finishing salt. Sprinkle it on top of peak-season heirloom tomatoes for a more complex flavor.”
Pink Himalayan Salt
Mined from prehistoric ocean deposits in the Himalayas, pink salt gets its color from tiny amounts of iron oxide (rust). It’s full of minerals, and in GP’s morning smoothie, it rounds out the flavor.
“Pink Himalayan salt is mild in flavor; it’s not a punchy salt. We put it on our banana bonbons because it’s pretty and delicate.” —Hito
Black Hawaiian Salt
Sometimes known as lava salt, black salt is sea salt that’s blended with activated charcoal.
“This finishing salt is very coarse, so it’s great on top of sesame ice cream or cookies. It’s all about texture and color with this one: It looks great on squid-ink pasta dishes.” —Hito
Red Hawaiian Salt
The color comes from the iron oxide in volcanic clay, but this salt tastes and functions like any other sea salt. It’s not as coarse as black salt, but not as fine as table salt.
“These colored salts don’t taste so different once you start cooking with them. What’s great about them is how amazing they look as a garnish, like on crostini with ricotta.” —O’Malley