Used since time immemorial throughout the world, it is a staple of salty and sweet cuisine and is found in both the humblest pantry and a Michelin star restaurant. We speak, of course, of salt, a seasoning with multiple uses that neither has remained oblivious to gastronomic fashions. We all have common salt at home, but the market has been filled with striking varieties that can certainly create confusion when using them.
With salt it happens a bit like with sugars. At a nutritional or health level, they all produce practically the same effects in the body. The different types of salt are composed between 90 and 98% sodium chloride, smaller amounts of other trace elements or minerals such as calcium or potassium, with differences that, for practical purposes, are minimal.
Sodium is an essential mineral for humans, but we need a very small amount that we also usually ingest through other foods, such as sodium or sodium chloride. The World Health Organization recommends do not exceed 5 g daily of salt consumption, in healthy adults, that is, a small teaspoon. Meals away from home and processed foods – be they ultra-processed or healthy processed – make it easy to far exceed that number, with the health dangers that this entails.
Thus, when consuming any salt we are basically taking sodium chloride, whose intake we must moderate so as not to exceed the recommended limits. No salt has healing powers or miraculous, but what interests us here are its culinary or gastronomic properties. In its different uses in the kitchen, we can differentiate specific varieties, depending on the result we want to obtain.
What is salt used for in cooking?
Salt is conceived as a condiment or dressing, usually included as a spice, although they are completely different products. It is a mineral ingredient, the only edible rock for humans, capable of enhance certain flavors and to reduce or qualify others. It also fulfills certain functions in cooking processes, based on certain chemical reactions, and is a powerful preservative natural used since ancient times.
By itself, salt has no more flavor than salty. The most advanced tasters will be able to differentiate different nuances according to the variety, more for intensity than for pure flavor; the gastronomic game must be found in the level of refinement, texture and color. When it is combined with other ingredients is when the magic occurs on the palate.
The origin of the salt: main sources of obtaining
The salt is everywhere In nature. Where the human being has obtained it has been more a matter of practicality: taking advantage of what was at hand. The sources of this raw material have traditionally been three: marine salt flats, springs and mines.
Some farms still in use date back thousands of years, and many have generated landscapes of great beauty and historical, natural, cultural and social importance, turned into national parks or protected areas, like the Valle Salado de Añana. We also find salts with various recognitions for their quality or tradition, such as the salt from Ibiza or the Italian from Trapani, with Protected Geographical Indication.
In the salt flats, the sea water is led through certain systems to platforms divided into plots or threshing floors, where let it evaporate. The brine is concentrated until the crystallization of the salt occurs, which is collected and dried. In mines, ore can be mined directly for pulverize it, or water is pumped in to dissolve it and then evaporate it.
The main types of salt and how to use them
It should be borne in mind that each manufacturer or distributor can market types of salt with different namesespecially when you want to emphasize the recommended use. There are also more fanciful and creative names, often in creations that incorporate aromas or other ingredients.
The most interesting thing is knowing how to take advantage of the salts with your different textures, although some varieties also stand out for their peculiar organoleptic characteristics.
Common salt or table salt
Let’s say it’s the standard salt, generic, the most economical and that can be bought in any supermarket or neighborhood store. It is sold in large, unglamorous packages and serves a basic function in everyday cooking.
It is almost always salt of marine origin, which may or may not be indicated on the package, and has a fine texture, although there is also thicker table salt. It is the variety that everyone expects to find in a salt shaker, to add to food during cooking, or at the table.
This term is not very precise since it only refers to the origin. Depending on the brand, it can be the announced name for a common or table salt, although there are table salts that are processed from mining deposits. When no other details are included, it is an ordinary and versatile salt for everyday use.
Other companies prefer to call sea salt to its coarsest varieties, less refined, designed to season meat and fish cooked on the grill or on the grill. It is sometimes said to have a more pronounced taste than table salt, but except for the coarse variant, its use is actually interchangeable.
Iodized and other fortified salt
Formerly it was the most common in tables although now its use is not so necessary. It is common salt, generally fine, to which the iodine that is lost during processing is added to compensate for the lack of this mineral in certain diets, in order to avoid diseases such as hypothyroidism.
There are also salts enriched with other nutrients, mainly minerals such as fluoride, folic acid or calcium, which seek to stand out as a food supplement, although for practical purposes it is more appropriate to eat a balanced diet.
Since the 1920s, in United States Salt was fortified with iodine as a general rule, due to the serious public health problems caused at that time by poor diets deficient in iodine, especially in pregnant women. Today it is a minor problem, but even so it is usually indicated on the labels of the salts that are not enriched that lack of iodine, so that the consumer is on notice.
Salt free or low sodium
These products totally or partially replace the sodium chloride in the salt with potassium chloride. They are intended for people suffering from hypertension or certain cardiovascular diseases. It can also be a good alternative for those who are too used to excessively salty flavors, because little by little it can help reduce that dependence on the salt shaker.
It is less potent than common salt, so flavor enhancers or herbs and spices are often added. It is recommended to use as table salt, but not for baking or subject to high temperatures, as it can leave bitter aftertastes.
Coarse or baking salt
If the package does not specify any additional information, it is a less refined type of salt with a more rustic appearance, coarse grain, which can be used to season food at the time of tasting, but is more popular for baking.
For its ability to retain moisture, the coarse salts are used to pickle or dry fish and meats, such as gravlax salmon, and to cook with salt. To do this, you have to create a crust that completely covers the food, moistening it with water or egg white, as explained here.
It is a specific type of flake salt, with its own name and trademark by the Maldon Salt Company. It comes from evaporated brine from the Blackwate River estuary in the English county of Essex. It is produced in a traditional way since 1882 from specific conditions that allows to obtain a thin layer of salt crystals.
Has a thick but delicate texture and very crunchy, with an intense flavor that makes it suitable for seasoning finished dishes, not for cooking. In addition to accentuating the natural flavors of meat, fish, vegetables or desserts – it is delicious with dark chocolate – it adds an aromatic saline touch and, above all, a tasty crunchy counterpoint.
Known worldwide by its French names, the fleur de sel It is one of the most popular in haute cuisine, too of the most expensive. It is achieved from exceptional weather conditions, when the typical cold of the evening favors the crystallization of the brine accumulated in the French salt pans, almost all in the Brittany area.
The result are tiny crystals of unrefined sea salt, with a very particular, irregular texture, highly appreciated in haute cuisine as a dressing or complement to all kinds of dishes, salty and sweet. The most valued French is Guérande’s gray salt; In Spain, the flower of Ibiza is also a type of flower of salt.
Salt flakes or petals
They are different variants of salts equivalent to Maldon, with different qualities. Depending on where it is obtained or the specific type of production, salts can be found in more or less thick flakes, with shapes that vary between petals, crusts or even pyramids.
In general, these are more expensive salts that are not used during cooking, but rather as final complement placed just before tasting. They cannot be absent when serving meat, fish and vegetables cooked on the grill or on the grill.
Very popular in America, this sea salt has a coarse-grained texture and larger than common table salt, without being excessively bulky, although dimensions and texture may vary from brand to brand. Grains adhere better to food, melt better in heat, and help season more precisely.
Has a fluffier texture, like tiny snowflakes, which allow better handling, more precise, when incorporating it with your fingers into the kitchen. If you want to substitute a tablespoon of kosher salt for regular table salt, you have to reduce the amount by half.
It is so called because it was the type of salt traditionally used by butchers to make meat kosher, according to Jewish food standards. Being …