Gourmet salt: A new kitchen staple
Salt occurs naturally as the mineral halite in seawater and saltwater lakes around the world. Salt is processed and refined in many different ways, resulting in variations in taste, texture and color.
Whatever its appearance, all salt contains a mix of sodium and chloride. Salt may also naturally contain small amounts of other minerals, which gives it variations in taste.
Whichever type of salt you enjoy, do so in moderation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams a day.
Table salt is the common granulated salt found in saltshakers on most dining tables. Table salt usually comes from underground salt deposits that are mined and then refined until most other minerals are removed, leaving behind pure sodium chloride. Table salt commonly has added iodine to help maintain a healthy thyroid, so it's sometimes called iodized salt.
Kosher salt is a coarser, larger grained salt that is traditionally used in the koshering process to cure meats but has many other uses. Kosher salt generally is free of additives, including iodine.
Because of its larger grain, kosher salt adds a crunchy texture to some dishes and even to drinks. You find it on the rim of margarita glasses and on pretzels. Kosher salt is also used for brining or marinating and enhancing the flavor of a variety of dishes, from roasts to popcorn.
Sea salt is a general term for a range of gourmet salts produced by evaporation of ocean water or water from saltwater lakes. It's generally less refined than other types of salt, so it retains trace minerals that lend it a variety of tastes, textures and colors.
Sea salt is typically named after the region it comes from. Sea salt is often promoted as a healthier alternative to table salt, but by weight, it has a comparable amount of sodium. Some sea salt may also have iodine.
While sea salt may be used in baking and cooking, some cooks reserve it for final seasoning of dishes to better appreciate the flavor and texture.
Rock salt is a type of salt mined from salt deposits. Large, chunky crystals of rock salt mixed with ice help create the lower temperature needed to freeze homemade ice cream. Rock salt generally isn't considered edible.
In plank, block or brick form, rock salt may be heated to high temperatures and used to quickly cook shrimp, fish or small pieces of meat. It may also be chilled or used at room temperature as a bed on which to serve clams or oysters.
Seasoned salt is salt mixed with herbs and spices to create different flavors, such as garlic salt, onion salt, celery salt and many others.
Seasoned salt generally has slightly less sodium than does table salt, but it still counts toward your daily sodium limit. You can sprinkle seasoned salt on many dishes for unique flavors, such as potatoes, popcorn, vegetables, salads, fish and meat.
As its name suggests, salt substitute is a replacement for regular salt. Salt substitute contains no sodium — it's made of potassium chloride, magnesium chloride or even certain amino acids (proteins).
Your doctor may recommend using a salt substitute if you're on a sodium-restricted diet. But salt substitute may not be appropriate for everyone because of the possibility of getting too much potassium, so check with your doctor first.
Salt substitutes are typically used at the table for seasoning. Some salt substitutes become bitter when heated. So check the label before using a salt substitute for cooking or baking.