Last week we discussed salt’s role in cooking, this time we will focus on the various types of salt. I found quite a few sites offering excellent information on salt types. Quite a few salts have risen to gourmet status because of their rarity and corresponding prices.
Among the most thorough sites explaining the many types, I found SaltWorks to be among the most informative (yes, they sell the salts themselves) for sea salts. They explain, in a simple manner, the differences among the various types. [We are NOT discussing or endorsing the kashrus of any single item listed. You have to check with the respective manufacturer whether any item is at all kosher and if it has a reliable hechsher. CS]
French Sea Salt
French sea salts are hand-harvested from pristine Atlantic seawater. Unlike most American sea salts, they are usually unrefined so they retain more of the trace minerals that naturally occur in seawater. These minerals include natural iodine. French grey sea salt, or Sel Gris, is harvested using the traditional Celtic methods. This prized process is done entirely by hand, using only wooden tools. This preserves the pure taste of the French salt, and produces a very special moist crystalline texture. Sel Gris by Le Tresor is also lower in sodium chloride content than average sea salts, generally containing anywhere from 83–87% sodium chloride. French sea salts are ideal for use on salads, cooked fresh vegetables and grilled meat. They are available in coarse grains – ideal for pinching or salt cellars, stone ground fine – an ideal replacement for processed table salts, and extra fine grain – the perfect popcorn salt (or other salty snacks).
Other Names: Sel Gris
Grey salt is a “moist” unrefined sea salt, usually found in the Brittany region of France’s Atlantic coast. Its natural light grey color comes from the minerals absorbed from the clay lining the salt ponds. The salt is collected by hand using traditional Celtic methods and wooden tools. Grey salt has gained great fame in the mainstream culinary world in the last few years, and is considered by many to be the best quality salt available. It is available in coarse grain – which is the perfect finishing or pinching size, stone ground fine – ideally used at the table instead of processed salts, and extra fine (Velvet) grain – perfect for sprinkling over nuts or popcorn.
Hawaiian Sea Salt
Other Names: Alaea, Alae, Hawaiian Red Salt, Hiwa Kai, Black Hawaiian Salt
Alaea Sea Salt is a traditional Hawaiian table salt used to season and preserve. A natural mineral called “Alae” (volcanic baked red clay) is added to enrich the salt with iron oxide. This natural additive is what gives the salt its distinctive red (pink) color. The clay imparts a subtle flavor that is said to be mellower and more earthy than regular sea salt. It is the traditional and authentic seasoning for native Hawaiian dishes such as Kalua pig, poke and Hawaiian jerky. It is also delicious on prime rib and pork loin. Alaea Red Hawaiian Sea Salt is available in fine and coarse grain.
Black Hawaiian sea salt, or Hiwa Kai, has a stunning black color. Activated charcoal is added to the salt for its stunning visual presentation, and flavor enhancing properties. Charcoal has also become popular for use in detox diets. Though not in large enough quantities to take as a detox supplement here, the activated charcoal in Hiwa Kai Black Hawaiian Sea Salt adds a pop of color and tasty flavor to your dishes. Available in coarse grain—great for tableside presentation and grinders.
Italian Sea Salt
Other Names: Sicilian Sea Salt, Sale Marino
Italian sea salt is produced from the low waters of the Mediterranean Sea along the coast of Sicily. It is a natural salt rich in minerals, such as iodine, fluorine, magnesium and potassium, with a slightly lower percentage of sodium chloride than regular table salt. The salt pans are filled with the seawater in the spring and left to evaporate, relying on the heat of the Sicilian sun and strong African winds. Harvesting takes place once the water has evaporated and the salt is crushed and ground without any further refining. These salts have a delicate taste and plenty of flavor, without being too strong or salty. Italian sea salts are wonderful on salads or used to finish roasts and sauces. Great as a garnish on bruschetta. Available in coarse and fine grain.
Other Names: Sal Del Mar, Sel De Mer, Sale Marino
Sea salt is a broad term that generally refers to unrefined salt derived directly from a living ocean or sea. It is harvested through channeling ocean water into large clay trays and allowing the sun and wind to evaporate it naturally. Manufacturers of sea salt typically do not refine sea salt as much as other kinds of processed salt, so it still contains natural traces of other minerals, including iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc and iodine. Proponents of sea salt rave about its bright, pure, clean flavor, and about the subtleties lent to it by these other trace minerals. Some of the most common sources for sea salt include the Mediterranean Sea, the North Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean (particularly in France, on the coast of Brittany). Sea salt is thought to be healthier and more flavorful than traditional table salt. Available in coarse, fine & extra fine grain size, and many sizes in between!
Smoked Sea Salt
Smoked sea salts are a relatively new and exciting gourmet salt in the U.S.! When you are considering a smoked sea salt, make sure that it is a naturally smoked salt, and hasn’t just had liquid smoke flavoring added—this can create a bitter taste. The salts that are smoked naturally in cold smokers are slow-smoked over real wood fires to infuse the salt crystals with 100% natural smoke flavor. Smoked sea salts add a unique flavor to a wide range of dishes including roasts, chicken, salads and sandwiches.
Unlike artificially infused smoke flavored salts, quality smoked sea salts are created using natural smoking methods. These salts are delicious to use when grilling or oven roasting, and are a must when cooking salmon. Also adds an authentic smokehouse flavor to soups, salads, pasta and sandwiches. Available in fine, coarse and flake grain sizes.
We will discuss more types of salt in the third installment of this series. Please remember, whether you find the type you wish online or in a specialty store, ALWAYS check to make sure it has a reputable hechsher you feel comfortable relying upon. Be warned, these salts are rather expensive.