Salt has found its place in almost every kitchen around the world, rightfully so. Salt is a staple in many cuisines and a must-have seasoning for any dish. But, while many people stick to one type of salt, there is a wide variety of salts you can use and all have their specific function. This guide will help you in knowing how to salt food, all food.

An illustration of different types of salt

Before we dive into the deep world of salts to understand their characteristics and function you need to know that salt is nothing more than the chemical compound sodium chloride (NaCl) in its crystallized form. These crystals can be obtained in different ways depending on the type of salt and this is what created a specific flavor that works better with specific recipes/food.

12 Types of Salt That Are Best for Cooking

There is a broad variety of salt types on the market. Not every salt will work with every dish, ingredient, or preparation method. The 12 types of salt for cooking are: 

  • Table Salt: The most popular type of salt present in pretty much any home. Often iodized, table salt is usually very fine and with the highest content of sodium chloride of all options. Besides that, it is often used as the first option for cooking salt (while not always the best).
  • Kosher Salt: This type of salt often has a softer and more natural flavor with a coarser texture than regular table salt and is mostly free of additives. Its characteristics make it particularly good at adhering to certain types of preparations (like meats).
  • Sea Salt: Sea salt is produced by evaporating seawater. The major differentiator between the different types of sea salt is its place of manufacturing, giving it special characteristics and flavor.
  • Specialty Salts: This category mostly focuses on very specific specimens like Himalayan pink salt and black salt. They offer very little in regards to flavor differences, with a couple of subtleties that make them interesting, at least.
  • Seasoned Salts: These are nothing more than regular salt mixed in with spices to make them more suitable as condiments. Options like garlic, onion, and celery salt seem to round this market.
  • Pickling Salt: Pickling salt is a pure granulated salt that has no iodine, no anticaking agents, and no potentially discoloring trace minerals. It is mainly used for canning and manufacturing pickles
  • Hawaiian Salt: This comes in black and red colors. The difference between Black and Red Hawaiian salt is their source. Black Hawaiian salt is a mixture of activated charcoal and volcanic sea salt. On the other hand, Red Hawaiian salt is unrefined sea salt combined mixed with red volcanic clay.
  • Flake Salt: This type of salt has crunchy crystals which is why it’s best used as a finishing garnish while adding flavor to food, like meat and vegetables.
  • Fleur de Sel (Flower of Salt): This salt is originally from the Brittany coast of France. It is not ground or crushed but harvested from the top of salty water ponds as the very top layer starts to crystalize. It’s lower in sodium than normal with higher mineral content. It is a delicate and aromatic choice and often considered creme de la creme.
  • Celtic Sea Salt: Also known as Sel Gris, it comes from the same region as Fleur de Sel. Celtic Sea Salt comes is “is raked from the tidal floor”, according to Masterclass. Because of its large and moist crystals, it gets a strong briny flavor. 
  • Smoked Salt: This is salt that has been stayed over slow-burning wood for over two weeks absorbing the aromatic intensity of whichever wood has been used.
  • Rock Salt: This is salt in its natural form and is sometimes also Halite.

What is the best sea salt for cooking?

Another truth that might surprise you is that…there is no wrong answer regarding sea salt. To know how to salt food you need to know what you’re looking for and understand the different types of salt. 

Depending on the desired characteristics of your preparation, you might prefer fine crystals or even salt flakes. More often than not, fine crystals seem to be the way to go thanks to their flexibility and ease of dissolution. Finally, other options like the coveted fleur de sel are worth considering; bearing their premium price. 

What is the difference between table salt and cooking salt?

The main differences between table salt and cooking salt are in their texture, taste, and processing. 

Table salt is often regarded as inexpensive. It’s very fine and contains more sodium chloride than sea salt. It’s often misused as cooking salt or added to water when cooking vegetables or pasta. While table salt is produced through the evaporation of salty water from oceans and lakes, cooking salt is mostly mined from underground salt deposits. This means that all salts that use this type of process can be considered cooking salt.

How Salt Impacts Flavor

Salt is one of the five basic flavors that we are geared to detect. It essentially improves the volume of salty flavors in foods. It also suppresses the bitter taste in foods and balances other tastes like sour and sweet.

The texture of salt also enhances the taste of food. When flake salts like Maldon are sprinkled on a salad, they bring out a short explosion of saltiness. This enhances the soft texture and earthy flavors of vegetables and other ingredients

How to Salt Food

There are a few recommended steps to follow when learning how to salt food:

  1. Understand your salt.
    • Get to know your salt because salt can vary in its saltiness. Whichever salt you’re using, get to taste a tiny bit by itself first before adding it to your food. If you have multiple brands, taste each of them at a time with a lot of water in between to understand their differences.
  2. Keep tasting your food as you cook.
    • Different cooks salt food differently, Some go heavy at the beginning, some sprinkle through the entire cooking process while some season at the end. Whichever method you’re using, keep tasting your food as you cook, of course, when it’s safe to taste the food (avoid tasting raw meat, etc). Always remember that you can always add more salt but you can’t remove it. 
  3. Strive for balance.
    • Apart from salt, there are other ingredients needed to make food taste great! In fact, the role of salt is to enhance the natural flavors of whatever you’re cooking. If you’re going to add other ingredients like chile or herbs to enhance heat and freshness, it is recommended that you do that first, then add salt to season it. This can be done throughout the cooking process but be sure to do it just before serving.

How to Salt Steak

The aim of seasoning steak is to allow the natural flavor of the beef to shine. There are 3 ways of salt steak, each with its pros and cons.

  1. Salting before cooking: Seasoning your steak with kosher salt and oil half an hour before cooking is a simple but amazing way of seasoning your steak.
  2. Wet brining: This method involves soaking your steak in a salt solution for 24 hours before cooking it.
  3. Dry brining: This is a process that involves rubbing your steak with salt and letting it rest in a cooled environment with plenty of airflows for 48 hours before cooking it.

How to Salt Vegetables.

Vegetables can be salted before cooking, while cooking, and after cooking. Raw vegetables for salad are seasoned by sprinkling salt to reduce moisture that would water down the dressing.

Vegetables can be salted while cooking by adding salt to their boiling water. It speeds up cooking and minimizes nutrient loss. Lastly, salting after cooking is done or seasoning only. The best time to add salt for the sole purpose of seasoning is after cooking. That way, you get the greatest flavor with the least amount of salt. This also prevents oversalting as it is easier to salt and taste.

When to salt food

The answer to this question depends on what you’re cooking.

  • Sauteed vegetables: While sauteing vegetables, it is important to add salt in the end for a crunchy and caramelized texture. Salt removes moisture from vegetables so if you add it at the beginning you’re likely to have soggy vegetables. This trick works well for all vegetables with high water content such as tomatoes.
  • Meat: It is important to always add salt to meat in the beginning. Adding salt to raw meat ensures that the flavor is absorbed well. When meat cooks, the cells close up and the meat may not be able to absorb any flavors.
  • Rice and pasta: It’s recommended to add salt to the water while boiling rice and pasta. This is because starches require a lot of salt to infuse flavor and this method enables them to take all of the salt and become more flavorful. Adding saltwater, will not have the same effect so it is important to add it while boiling them.

How to Make Food Less Salt

You may now have a better understanding on how to salt food, but that doesn’t mean you won’t ever over-salt your food. There are different ways of de-salting food. This majorly depends on the kind of dish. If you’re dealing with soup, you can simply dilute by adding more water.

A salty salad can be desalted by adding more of the base green. For roasted vegetables, the salt can be reduced by adding a sour component such as vinegar or lemon juice but you have to be careful not to make it too sour.

For baked foods, it is tougher to desalt them as you’re not supposed to taste batter that has raw eggs or flour in it (but we won’t judge), so you’re not likely to know it’s oversalted until it’s fully cooked. However, toppings and frostings with a sour taste like cream cheese can come in handy. It is important to go slow when applying any of these de-salting methods and taste as you go to avoid over-correcting. 

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