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Here’s how and when to use each one. 

By Corey Williams
April 08, 2021
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If you've ever found yourself overwhelmed at the grocery store, unsure what kind of salt to buy for your particular cooking needs, you've come to the right place. Here's everything you need to know about identifying and using the three most common types of salt: 

What Is Salt and What Does It Do? 

Salt, or sodium chloride, is a mineral. Edible salt keeps your body functioning properly and is essential to human survival. It also strongly influences how we perceive food. In fact, it's one of the five basic taste sensations (salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami). 

Since salt affects food in such a multidimensional way, it's almost impossible to succinctly explain its role in cooking. However, award-winning chef and cookbook author Samin Nosrat does a pretty darn good job in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat — and if anyone knows salt, it's Nosrat.   

"[Salt] has its own particular taste, and it enhances the flavor of other ingredients," she writes. "Used properly, salt minimizes bitterness, balances out sweetness, and enhances aromas, heightening our experience of eating." 

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What Is Table Salt?

Close up of a pile of salt on a table cloth
Credit: Peter Dazeley

You know that salt shaker on the table at your favorite restaurant? That's almost definitely common table salt. A small, dense, uniformly cubic structure means it's extra salty, so a little goes a long way. 

Unless it's otherwise noted, most table salt is iodized. Here's why: Iodine deficiency (which causes goiters) used to be a widespread health problem, so Morton Salt started adding iodine to their products way back in the 1920s. This move certainly helped a lot of people, but you likely get all the iodine you need today from sources like seafood and dairy. If you're using table salt, opt for a non-iodized version — it'll keep your food from tasting metallic-y. 

When Do You Use It? 

If you're baking something that calls for a small quantity of salt (a teaspoon or two), it's fine to use budget-friendly table salt — it'll dissolve quickly into your batter or dough and you won't be able to taste any metal in the finished product. It's also handy when you're at a restaurant and you need to add a little salty flavor to your food. Generally, though, it's best to stick to kosher or sea salt for cooking.  

What Is Sea Salt? 

Sea salt, close-up
Credit: Creativ Studio Heinemann

Sea salt comes from, well, the sea. It's what's left over when water from the ocean or saltwater lakes evaporates. Sea salt is usually minimally processed, so it retains trace levels of nutrients like magnesium, iron, calcium, and potassium. 

Sea salt has a coarser grain than table salt and is softer than kosher salt. It's notable for its crunchy texture and potent flavor. 

When Do You Use It? 

There are many types of sea salt available and they shouldn't be used interchangeably. For example, flaky sea salt (such as Maldon) is delicate and relatively expensive. It's generally considered a finishing salt, so save it for times you know it'll stand out. Sprinkle it over salads, steaks, or chocolate chip cookies to add texture and flavor.

Refined granular sea salt, which is a bit more budget-friendly, has a fine to medium grain that's perfect throughout the cooking process. Nosrat suggests using this type of sea salt to "season foods from within" — toss it into pasta water, use it to season meats before cooking, or mix it into doughs or batters. 

What Is Kosher Salt? 

Kosher Salt Spilled from a Spice Jar
Credit: Michelle Lee Photography/Getty Images

Of the salts mentioned in this article, kosher salt has the largest and coarsest grain. It's usually not iodized and it's very versatile, as it's composed of large, light flakes that don't dissolve immediately. 

Its name comes from the ancient Jewish practice of using coarse-grained salt to drain blood from meat, as eating meat containing blood is forbidden in certain Jewish traditions. However, not all kosher salt is technically kosher — for it to be considered kosher, it needs to be manufactured under a certain set of guidelines and standards. If you're looking for kosher kosher salt, look for a package that is labeled "kosher-certified." 

When Do You Use It? 

Kosher salt is extremely versatile. If you're going to have one type of salt on hand, let it be kosher salt. Its coarse texture and quick-dissolving qualities make it ideal for use before, during, and after cooking. 

There are two major brands of kosher salt Diamond Crystal and Morton. As they are produced in different ways and have different properties, they do produce slightly different results. For what it's worth, Nosrat prefers Diamond Crystal and used it to develop all the recipes in her book. It dissolves roughly twice as fast as a denser salt like Morton, which means it's far more forgiving when you're seasoning food through estimations rather than measurements. 

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