All About Salt

Knowing the varieties of salts and when to use them is essential when cooking like a pro.

This January, we're going to show you how you can achieve great taste using the one seasoning cooks couldn't do without: Salt. This content was created in partnership with Food52.

To say that salt is an important part of our diets is an understatement. We rely on it for flavor, preservation, as an essential mineral for our health, and it’s our trusty kitchen workhorse — we’d be nowhere without salt.

But these days we have a lot of salt varieties to choose from, and it’s not always easy knowing which to choose.

Here’s the lowdown on how and when to use different types of salt:

Table salt is refined, small-grained salt from underground salt deposits, and it contains more sodium chloride (97 to 99 percent) than sea salt. A lot of table salts contain additives to prevent caking, as well as iodine, an essential nutrient. You’ll find this type of basic salt on dining room tables and in restaurants. Be cautious if you’re cooking with table salt — many recipes provide measurements for coarser kosher salt, so the fine grains of table salt can easily make a dish too salty. Our cardinal rule? Start conservative, and always taste as you go.

Kosher salt comes from either the sea or the earth, and is so named because it is used to prepare meats according to Jewish dietary guidelines. While not all kosher salt is certified as such, this category of salt is often used in cooking because it is easier to manually handle and distribute, thanks to a slightly flakier, less tightly-packed grain. It dissolves easily and quickly, which makes it a great all-purpose salt, perfect for blanching, pasta water and seasoning meat.

Sea salt comes from evaporated saltwater, and usually undergoes less processing than table salt. It’s coarser, too, with larger grains that have a sharp, bright flavor — which is exactly what you want (unless you’re working with a specialty or smoked salt like we describe below). Like kosher salt and table salt, use sea salt when you’re just looking to enhance the flavor of what you’re cooking — not add to it.

Finishing salts, such as Maldon, fleur de sel and flake salt, have varying crystal structures and are used to “finish” all types of dishes — from salads and steaks to ice cream and cookies — to enhance and complement existing flavor. These salts are generally harvested by hand and are loved for their delicate flakes, flavor, and texture.

Other salts to know:

Hawaiian sea salt can either be red, from the mineral Alaea in volcanic baked red clay, or black, from the addition of charcoal. It’s full of trace minerals and is best used to complement pork, seafood, and ceviche. You’ll find it in both coarse and fine grains.

Himalayan salt is hand-mined from ancient sea-salt deposits in the Khewra salt mine in Pakistan. Its color ranges from pure white to deep red, and it is believed to be one of the purest salts available.

Infused salts are a great way to switch up your seasoning. Smoked salt is one way to go — it’s slow-smoked over a wood fire for a deep, smoky flavor. Or go for any number of seasoned salts, with flavors such as truffle, lemon, and herbs. Try seasoning your eggs or risotto with truffle salt — or your cookies with herb salt — for a whole new take on the dishes you know and love.