Maybe you already know that you’re supposed to salt your food as you go, or that if you add enough of it early in the cooking process (such as to pasta or vegetable blanching water) you can reduce the amount you use later, and potentially cut down on the volume you use overall.
But when it comes to the mineral itself, the many types can feel overwhelming, even though they’re chemically very similar. Here’s a quick primer on the main iterations you’ll spy:
1. Kosher Salt
This is what cooks reach for when seasoning pasta water, meat, broth, and really most anything early in the cooking process. It’s not typically a finishing element. Know that Kosher varies in “saltiness” and density by the brand, and is very different, tablespoon by tablespoon, from table salt.
2. Table Salt
This is less often the go-to of chefs and proficient home cooks, who reach for Kosher and sea. Table salt often contains trace amounts of iodine and has smaller flakes than Kosher tends to have, making it more difficult to use for evenly salting a large cut of meat or vegetables.
3. Sea Salt
Sea salt, as garnishing these marvelous chocolate pots de crème, is delicate and bright, and tends to be used as a finishing element. It comes in fine and coarse textures and hails, of course, from the sea. It’s simply the result of the evaporation of sea water. Its most famous iterations are large pyramid-like crystals of Maldon and big flakes of fleur de sel. Again, don’t use it interchangeably with table or Kosher salts in recipes.
4. Rock Salt
Often used as a bed for oysters or clams, or in a hand-cranked ice cream machine, rock salt is less refined than others. Though it’s less ideal for eating on its own, it’s typically safe to eat. That’s why cooks feel comfortable using it to, say, encase a whole fish or piece of meat.
5. Smoked Salt
Smoked versions, such as this hickory-infused Pacific sea salt, tends to be used as a finishing note. Its fans might sprinkle it over buttered popcorn, salads, soups, grilled vegetables, or meats. If you’ve never tried it, it’s worth giving it a whirl.
6. Pickling Salt
Pickling salt is fine-grained and used in pickle-making, whether for the brine in dill pickles or sauerkraut. It’s typically additive-free. (Additives would effectively cloud the brine.)