Things you should know about everyday kitchen salt:
- Everybody tastes saltiness a bit differently, stronger and weaker.
- Restaurant chefs use a LOT more than you think. (Butter too, but that’s a different day.)
- All salt is NOT the same. (And good salt doesn’t have to cost more than bad salt.)
Salt is good. Our bodies need it. It makes food taste better.
So let’s break it down.
Two Common Types of Salt
Most of us are mainly used to table salt which is a finely ground salt. Kosher salt, referring to its use when koshering meats, is a coarser grind. Table/Kosher, Fine/Coarse, take your pick.
They (should) taste about the same. However, as I hinted earlier, different brands of salt have different levels of saltiness due to where they’re harvested and their sodium content. Sea salt is obviously harvested from sea water and salt can also be dug from a mine. In fact, most of the salt produced in the U.S. is mined. I’ll talk more about this in a minute but know in general that I very much prefer the taste of sea salt to mined salt. But I realize not everyone can taste a difference. No worries.
Also today, I’m not talking about the specialty salts, smoked, Himalayan, or bazillion others. Just the everyday kitchen stuff.
You would think buying something as basic as salt would be easy but it’s not. Organic doesn’t have a meaning since sodium chloride, salt, is inorganic. Local, unless you live by the ocean or a mine I suppose, doesn’t mean much either. Yet it’s one of the most common things in our kitchens.
You know me: read the labels.
A LOT of salt in the grocery store has anti-caking chemical additives. When exposed to moisture and humidity salt crystals stick together and clump. To fix that, the manufacturers started adding various chemicals to counteract it. Morton’s famous slogan, When it rains, it pours is their brand’s claim to fame for a high humidity day, like when it’s raining, the salt doesn’t clump up and still pours easily.
According to the FDA, there are 18 chemicals approved as anti-caking additives: tricalcium phosphate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium ferrocyanide, potassium ferrocyanide, calcium ferrocyanide, bone phosphate, sodium silicate, silicon dioxide, calcium silicate, magnesium trisilicate, talcum powder, sodium aluminosilicate, potassium aluminium silicate, calcium aluminosilicate, bentonite, aluminium silicate, stearic acid, and polydimethylsiloxane.
Some of these are less scary than others but still. As I’ve said before the argument that it’s just a little bit never makes me feel better. Prolonged exposure over time to a little bit is bound to add up.
The brand in most kitchens is Morton Salt. The familiar blue cylinder with the little girl and her umbrella has been an American mainstay for more than a century. I grew up on it.
Umm, no, thank you.
Keep your salt in a sealed container and, worst case, shake it before you use it. You should be fine. I got several of these a while back from World Market but you can also order them from Amazon.com. They come with labels and in different colors. I use them for salt, black pepper, baking soda, baking powder, and corn starch and I like them a lot.
And just so you know — because I may have some nerd-like tendencies — I might someday break down and get the cool salt server made famous on Alton Brown’s Good Eats. (It’s on the wish list.)
Season to Taste
Not all salt is created equal. You should always taste your food and adjust your seasonings as needed. The salts I’ll look at below range from 280mg to 580mg sodium per quarter teaspoon. That’s a huge difference! Imagine someone writes a recipe using the regular Morton Salt we grew up with, at 590mg sodium / quarter teaspoon, and you use a 280mg variety. You’re probably going to think the recipe is way under-seasoned. (And the converse, over-seasoned, would also be true if you switched them.)
So, let’s run down a few of the salts I could easily get my hands on locally.
Morton Natural Sea Salt
It has to say natural on it or it will have anti-caking agents added to it. Even their regular sea salt. Check the label.
This is harvested from the Mediterranean and has a sodium content of 560mg / quarter teaspoon. It’s made by the Morton Salt Company based in Chicago and owned by K+S AG, a German chemical company. You can usually find this in your local grocery.
Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
This is a very popular restaurant kitchen brand. Though it’s not written on the container, Diamond Crystal is harvested from the San Francisco Bay and has a sodium content of 280mg / quarter teaspoon. It is dramatically less salty than many commercial brands. It’s sold by the Cargill Corporation based in Minnesota. You can usually find this in your local grocery.
Kirkland Signature Sea Salt
This is from Costco. It is “harvested from the pristine waters off of Brazil’s northern coast” and contains 580mg sodium / quarter teaspoon. I have no idea who produces salt for Costco and they’re not talking :).
Field Day Sea Salt
I originally found this at a local co-op grocery (which used to carry mainly organic items but is now somewhat mixed). Field Day can also be found in Whole Foods and Safeway stores. The salt is harvested from the coast of Spain and contains 440mg sodium / quarter teaspoon. The company, Field Day, is owned by United Natural Foods (UNFI) based out of Rhode Island.
What I Use
Excepting for adventures like this one, we typically use Field Day Sea Salt. It’s been several years since we stopped using Morton’s. I don’t have anything against the company, and I know it is iconic, but we think the sea salts in general just taste better and we found ourselves naturally using a lot less salt in (and on) our food. The cost difference is negligible. And no chemical additives!
That said, I would certainly be open to any of these on a regular basis. I’ve tried them all (obviously) and many others.
P.S. I know iodine used to be a problem for a lot of people. The foods we tend to eat everyday supply more than enough iodine (per government recommendations) and, as if that’s not enough, the daily multivitamin recommended by our physician has it covered 100% anyway.
P.P.S. Yes, I’ve tried the popular Celtic Sea Salt brand. It’s harvested from the coast of France and contains 458mg sodium / quarter teaspoon. I thought it tasted a bit strange, a little funky, so I didn’t include it here.
I’d love hear what you think!