Photo by Jody Horton
Salt is a simple compound (sodium chloride) originating from the sea or from rocks. People have been mining salt since before recorded history, though much of the salt we see today has been manufactured by the world’s massive salt industry. But beyond our familiar iodized table and kosher salts is a fascinating variety of specialty products that are still being harvested by traditional methods.
Here are some of our favorite specialty salts:
While the term “sea salt” seems to be purely descriptive, the category itself is too vast to have much real meaning. At the outset, sea salt refers to any salt made from seawater, but without further classification this includes everything from an industrially produced salt to small-batch artisan salts. When shopping for sea salt, look for additional information -- “unrefined" sea salt (such as gray salt) or flake salt will fall into the artisan category.
Gray salt is an unrefined sea salt made through a slow process of evaporating seawater from carefully managed beds. The best known gray salt comes from France where it goes by the name sel gris or gros sel gris (coarse gray salt). The “gray” refers to the somewhat dingy color of the salt resulting from the trace minerals and flecks of clay and calcium leftover from the harvesting process. Gray salt has a pleasing mineral flavor and intriguing moist texture. It can be used sparingly in cooking and also as a finishing salt.
Fleur de Sel
Fleur de sel translates as “flower of salt” and refers to sea salt that is harvested by raking the sea foam from specially controlled salt ponds. Once dried, the crystals are revered for their briny sea flavor and the subtle bite they add to dishes. Try sprinkling fleur de sel and lemon zest on roasted sweet corn or grilled seafood.
Flake salt is produced by evaporating seawater using the power of the sun and wind, then gently heating the seawater brine to create unique pyramid shaped crystals. The best known flake salt is Maldon salt from England. Use it as a finishing salt to magnify the exterior crunch on a perfect New York strip steak or as a welcome surprise on your favorite chocolate chip cookies.
Himalayan Pink Salt
This pink salt is mined from a region in the Himalayan mountain range of northern Pakistan. Himalayan pink salt is exceptionally pure with a clean, bold flavor. The salt (also called Himalayan rock salt when sold in slab form) ranges in color from the palest pink to a rich crimson red. Shave or grind it over finished dishes for a final flourish or heat a block of it in the oven (if you're lucky enough to get your hands on one!) and cook thinly sliced fish on it for an unbeatable party trick.
Smoked and Flavored Salts
There are many specialty salts on the market that take advantage of the mineral's natural capacity to carry other flavors. Here are a few to look out for:
Photos by Sarah Shatz
Some of our most delicious salted recipes:
Sweet Lime Pie with Salty Pretzel Crust
Chocolate Truffles with Pink Salt
Salted Pumpkin Caramels
Crispy Salt and Pepper French Toast (pictured above, left)
Baked Tilapia with Lemon-Thyme Flaky Salt
Salted Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies (pictured above, right)
Like this post? Check out last week's From Scratch topic: Pie Crust Primer.