Let’s take a look at some different types of salt and their culinary uses. Which salt should be used when? What exactly is kosher salt, and how is it different from table salt? Can you substitute one for the other? I’m here to break it down for you!
Compared to the colorful seasonings in your spice rack, salt may sometimes feel like an afterthought. But the truth is, there’s no ingredient more essential when it comes to adding flavor and depth to your food. And there are many different types of salt! At one point in time, salt was so highly prized that it was used as a type of currency; salt rations were used to pay Roman soldiers, and it was an essential trade good for ancient explorers and merchants.
Though it’s unlikely you’ll ever collect your paycheck in the form of salt, this seasoning remains essential in the modern kitchen. Different types of salt have unique textures and flavor profiles, making certain options more ideal for particular culinary applications.
One of the most common types of salt, this is what you’ll typically find inside a salt shaker. Table salt is generally mined from underground deposits, dissolved in water, and purified to remove any trace minerals before being re-hydrated to form the final product. This process creates an even, fine-grained texture and clean, consistent taste. Table salt dissolves easily, making it a good choice for baking.
Use for: general cooking and baking
Iodized salt is simply table salt that’s been treated with sodium iodide. It was developed in the 1920s to prevent iodine deficiency, a condition that can cause thyroid issues. If your diet includes a sufficient amount of seafood, kelp and sea vegetables, and plants grown in iodine-rich soils, you might not need additional iodine from salt; however, it’s not harmful to use iodized salt. Some chefs do note a slight chemical aftertaste from the added iodine.
Use for: general cooking and baking
A great alternative to traditional table salt, kosher salt offers a flakier, coarser texture and clean, bright flavor. This additive-free salt variety gets its name because it’s used during the process of koshering meat. Because of its larger grains, kosher salt takes slightly longer to dissolve than table salt, which means that it offers enhanced texture when used to season meats and vegetables.
This is my preferred salt, and you’ll see it used in most of my recipes. Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt is considered to be one of the “least salty” salts, and it’s what I typically keep stocked in my pantry.
Use for: seasoning meats and vegetables, general cooking and baking
Sea salt is made by evaporating seawater to produce large, irregular crystals or flakes that can come in a variety of colors. Because it’s less processed than table salt, sea salt offers a more complex mineral flavor profile, which is strongly influenced by its geographic origin. Highly versatile in the kitchen, sea salt can range in texture from fine flakes to coarse crystals, and in flavor from briny to lightly sweet.
Use for: everything from meats to salads to salted caramel desserts
Coarse salt is named for the style of grind, which produces large, irregular crystals with rough edges. This makes coarse salt ideal when a recipe calls for large grains of salt that don’t melt easily; think pretzels or grilled veggies.
I personally also use coarse salt along with flax oil for cleaning my cast iron pans after cooking. The coarse crystals are perfect for scrubbing away any cooked on food.
Use for: seasoning with large, visible crystals, as well as cleaning cast iron.
Fleur de Sel (Finishing Salt)
Fleur de sel is a French phrase meaning “flower of salt.” It’s used to describe a uniquely delicate salt variety from the coast of Brittany, where the crystals are hand-harvested from the surface of saltwater ponds. This production method means that fleur de sel is lower in sodium and higher in mineral content than most salts, so it offers a lightly briny flavor. The delicate flakes of fleur de sel cling to food easily and dissolve slowly on the tongue, making it an ideal finishing salt.
Use for: finishing a dish just before serving
It’s easy to spot Himalayan salt; this variety is noteworthy for its striking, salmon-pink hue. Recognized as the world’s purest salt, Himalayan salt is mined high in the mountains of Pakistan. Rich in minerals, it offers a complex flavor and large, hard grains (put the crystals in a grinder for best results in the kitchen). Because it’s dried at high temperatures, Himalayan salt is exceptionally strong and stable; it can be carved into boards, bowls and other cookware.
You may also recognize this salt variety from a popular non-culinary application: salt lamps. These traditional lights, made from large chunks of Himalayan salt, are believed by some to produce ions that improve mood, sleep, and air quality in your home.
Use for: seasoning meats, soups, and vegetables, or adding color to a dish
Another region known for its colorful salt is Hawaii, which produces a red sea salt known as alaea salt. Alaea salt is made by combining Hawaiian sea salt with red volcanic clay. Popular in Hawaiian cooking, this salt is relatively low in sodium and derives a mild flavor from the mineral-rich clay. Thanks to its eye-catching color, it makes an exceptional finishing salt. It’s also one of the key ingredients in my Slow Cooker Kalua Pork.
Use for: traditional Hawaiian dishes, or adding color to a dish
Black Lava Salt
Black lava salt is harvested in volcanic regions across the globe, from Iceland to Hawaii. The salt crystals are formed from evaporated seawater found near hardened lava flows, and then mixed with activated charcoal to achieve their dark and distinctive hue. Many lava salts have an earthy, slightly sulfuric taste that comes from their volcanic origins, so use them sparingly until you get a good feel for the flavor. I think they look especially beautiful on salads.
Use for: earthy flavor and dramatic color
If you have an interest in traditional preserving methods, pickling salt will become an essential ingredient in your kitchen. This fine-grained salt is made without any additives, which helps to prevent clouding in the liquid when making pickled vegetables. Though it may look like table salt, pickling salt isn’t a good substitute; it’s far more concentrated, so its flavor is much stronger.
Use for: pickling vegetables, making sauerkraut, or brining a turkey
Flavored or seasoned salts offer a near-endless array of options. Sea salt can be mixed with countless combinations of herbs and spices to create complex flavor profiles that elevate savory dishes or simple snacks like popcorn. Sea salt can even be smoked over different types of wood for a rich, barbecue-inspired flavor. The most popular flavored salt, however, is truffle salt. Infused with black or white truffles, this luxurious option adds a spectacular finish to dishes that call for rich, earthy flavor.
Use for: an extra burst of flavor (or just topping your popcorn)
Are Different Types of Salt Interchangeable in Recipes?
The short answer is no, but that doesn’t mean you have to run to the store every time a recipe calls for a specific salt. You won’t necessarily be able to swap out different types of salt for the exact same quantity, but you can still use them. I’ve gotten away with swapping kosher, table, and sea salt on many occasions, but I’m very comfortable salting to taste and adjusting the seasoning as I go.
If you’re a beginner or intermediate cook, I recommend using the type of salt noted in the ingredient list for baked goods, and proceeding with caution in savory dishes. If the ingredients simply list “salt,” check to see if the website or cookbook author notes a standardization somewhere. Otherwise, be ready to season the recipe to taste. And remember, as a wise person once said, it’s easier to add than subtract.