So many salts, which one to use? This is a common question posed on a daily basis. Here, we debunk some of the salt mystery and help you assess which salt to use for which application.
When assessing different salts, we consider the four following elements:
While the base ingredient in most salts is indeed sodium chloride, the location and method of production have an impact on the final make-up of a salt. Much like wine, where the intrinsic properties of the grapes are characterised by the soil or 'terroir', the geological makeup of the regions in which salts are harvested have a significant bearing on their flavours.
For an insight into the ways salt can be used, watch our video below. Gewürzhaus co-founder Maria discusses salt use in Australia as well as the different types of salts that are most commonly used in cooking – including a lesson in when to use which salt!
Here are 8 of our favourite salts with specific tasting and application notes, details on their type and how they are harvested.
Type: Mediterranean sea salt (sodium chloride) combined with Italian Black Summer Truffles
Application: While all truffle varieties work wonderfully with any cooked egg or mushroom dishes, the Black Truffle itself is ideal when added to classic sauces, roast chicken, steak, potatoes and winter vegetables. Delicious on a simple margarita pizza. Or try something truly unique such as adding to hot buttered popcorn!
Tasting notes: Earthy, chocolaty, musky, tannic and pungent. The salt enhances the exquisite truffle flavour and aroma, which is what this salt is all about.
Type: Persian Blue Salt is a sylvite, a mineral consisting of potassium chloride that is administered in low-sodium diets or as a salt substitute. The crystals are very similar to those of common salt but show a different degree of symmetry under close analysis. Sylviates can have varying colours, from white to yellow to red, and very rarely, blue.
How it is harvested: The Persian Blue Salt is hand-harvested in thousand-year old salt mines, where the veins of the blue salt are very fine, making them a rare and precious commodity.
Application: It is recommended to use as a finishing salt so that the decorative nature of the crystals can be appreciated. Sprinkle on white-fleshed fish to evoke the colours of the ocean.
Tasting notes: A strong flavour comes across initially, before mellowing on the back of the palette to leave a more refined aftertaste. Try it on poached or grilled fish, melons, potato or parsnip pureé, French fries or hot chips.
Origin: Brittany, France (western coast).
Type: Fleur del Sel is a type of unrefined sea salt (sodium chloride), which contains relatively high degrees of trace minerals including calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc and more. It's a hygroscopic salt: the high magnesium and calcium content mean that the salt draws moisture out of the air. Contains upwards of 10% residual moisture.
How it is harvested: Fleur de Sel is harvested from the delicate crust of crystals that form on the surface of ocean ponds when the sun and wind are just so in the summer months. Because it forms in very limited amounts, it must be carefully hand skimmed from the surface. Due to the small quantities produced and delicate harvesting process, it commands a price premium.
Application: Because of the higher moisture content, Fleur de Sel is particularly adept at maintaining its structural integrity when served on moist or steamed foods, which allows for the satisfying crunch to preserve when drier salts would otherwise melt.
Tasting notes: Because of its fragile, pyramidal crystal shape, it produces a crunchy salt burst when sprinkled on relatively dry foods just before serving or at the table. Has a strong odour and crystal structure maintenance on moist foods. The irregular crystal shapes and sizes ensure ongoing bursts of salt. Great on steamed vegetables, caramels, ice cream, fish, green salads and citrus, butter.
Trivia: French=flower of salt. The caviar of salts. Fleur de Sel contains more minerals than most table salts. The colour is often slightly grey due to the sand collected in the process of harvesting the salt from the pans.
Origin: Kauai, Hawaii, USA
Type: Unrefined sea salt (sodium chloride) and alaea (pronounced Ah-la-eh-ah). The colour of the salt is given by the naturally occurring iron oxide (rust) in the red clay, which is high in anti-oxidants.
How it is harvested: The particular earthy hue of the Hawaiian Red Salt comes from the volcanic red clay –the alaea -that is found exclusively on Island of Kauai’s shores. During harvesting, a local sea salt is blended with a small amount of the alaea.
Application: While commonly used as a table salt in Hawaii, it can be used for both seasoning and preserving foods. However, because clay and salt will separate in water, Alaea Salt should be mainly used as a finishing salt. Excellent with roasting meat, in particular pork, with the colour of the salt bringing out the pinkish tones of the meat while the clay seals in the moisture. Delicious on roast vegetable with a drizzle of olive oil; corn cobs with butter; and cocktail rims.
Tasting notes: Milder in flavour than many single origin salts, it has a clean and well-balanced flavour. Excellent crunch that is maintained with even slightly wet foods.
Type: Sea salt (sodium chloride) and charcoal (black colour).
How it is harvested: A transparent flake sea salt is first collected by hand from the pristine waters off the Isle of Cyprus. The salt is then suffused with a carbon that has been activated with oxygen, creating a highly porous charcoal, which binds to the flake salt.
Application: The large intense black crystals provide a beautiful contrast to the vibrant natural colours found in red, green and white foods. Perfect scattered on a Caprese salad of fresh tomatoes, basil leaves, buffalo mozzarella and olive oil. Try it with pork, fish, goats cheese or white vegetables. Particularly good on roasted parsnips.
Tasting notes: While mild in taste, the generous size of the crystals allow for short, sharp bursts of flavour to intertwine with the food they are served with.
Origin: The Potwar Plateau of the Punjab region, Pakistan
Type: Inland rock salt, 97-99% sodium chloride. The most mineral-rich of all salts, a typical spectral analysis of Himalayan Pink will reveal no fewer than eighty trace elements, making it immensely popular with nutritionists seeking to deliver the highest value from salt. The colour comes from the iron.
How it is harvested: The salt is hand harvested from the mines as it has been for the past two millennia. The deposits were formed over 600 million years ago when an ancient ocean dried up and were said to have been discovered by Alexander the Great’s horsemen.
Application: Himalayan Pink salt is typically sold is larger crystals than many other salts and is an excellent cooking salt for pasta water, sauces and soups. It can be easily ground in a mortar for use as a finishing salt.
Tasting notes: A much bolder and at times, confronting salty salt, appealing to those looking for direction over subtlety.
Trivia: Himalayan salt is known for its healing properties and is used by health professionals, spas and individuals who are interested in utilizing natural products to heal the body and relax the mind. Stimulating circulation, lowering blood pressure and removing toxins such as heavy metals from the body are just a few of the many reported benefits of Himalayan Salt.
Origin: South Australia
Type: Sea salt, sodium chloride, and red gum smoke.
How it is harvested: Sea salt harvested from the Pacific Ocean is slow smoked over native red river gum wood for 72 hours. The act of smoking evaporates the seawater in the salt leading to a drier finish.
Application: Smoked salt has been a favourite Scandinavian seasoning for centuries, dating back to the time of Vikings who infused sea salt with smoke from native wood fires. Extremely versatile, use as a finishing salt to add a rich, smoky flavour to everything from meats, poultry and seafood to salads, soups, sauces and vegetables
Tasting notes: Native Red Gum Smoked Salt adds flame-grilled aroma and a smoky bacon complexity to just about any dish.
Type: Sodium chloride, common salt. Generally contains no iodine.
How it is harvested: Kosher salt can either be harvested from the sea or salt mines and is harvested like common table salt. It is defined by the shape and size of its crystals rather than its origin or harvesting process.
Application: Kosher salt, or more appropriately, koshering salt, is designed to draw blood from the surface of meat in the koshering process. Hence, its crystals are made flat and larger than ordinary table salt, so that its surface area is maximised for the extraction process. Many commercial kitchens use kosher salt for its value for money as well as for it’s easy to handle crystal sizes. As a finishing salt, it works particularly well applied to fried foods, where its irregular shapes add an attractive glisten to the food. Kosher salt can either be used as a cooking salt or a finishing salt. Also fantastic in pasta sauces.
Tasting notes: Kosher salt provides short, sharp bursts and flavour and crunch.