There’s arguably no ingredient more important – or overlooked
It’s fair to say there are few kitchen ingredients that humans actually need to consume to survive. Salt, however, is most definitely one of these, and the most ancient of seasonings remains the most crucial.
Not only do our bodies require salt to transmit nerve impulses, contract and relax muscle fibre, and maintain a proper fluid balance.
Salt is also one of the five main tastes (along with sweet, sour, bitter and umami) recognised by the gustatory cells (taste buds) spread across our tongue, soft palate and inner cheeks; the taste of salt is picked up by specific receptors located in a rim around the front and sides of our tongues.
The more you consider the culinary impact of salt, the greater its significance becomes. Salt, essentially sodium chloride (NaCl), contains properties that release food molecules into the air, heightening aroma to create the olfactory function that’s an essential part of taste.
Furthermore, salt levels actually alter the relationships between the other main tastes we perceive in the palate. In small amounts, salt actually curbs bitterness, while enhancing sweet, sour and umami. At higher concentrations salt, it reduces sweetness and umami to intensify savouriness in dishes.
Consider this as a whole and it becomes less easy to mock the spice aisles Of the gourmet stores where, far from plain white grains, you’ll find salt in course flakes, crystalline pyramids and shades of red, pink, ochre and black. The most diligent and talented chef’s understand there’s good reason to keep these varieties in the kitchen store cupboard. So take note of our guide to these six special salts below, and we believe you’ll have this special seasoning sorted for every culinary occasion.
Harvested from evaporated sea-water, sea salt is usually unrefined and coarser-grained than table salt. It also contains some of the minerals from where it was harvested - zinc, potassium and iron among them, which give sea salt a more complex flavour profile. Sprinkle it on top of foods for a different mouth feel and bigger burst of flavour than table salt provides.
FLEUR DE SEL
Literally ‘flower of salt’ fleur-de-sel is a sea salt hand-harvested from tidal pools off the coast of Brittany in France. Paper-thin salt crystals are delicately drawn from the water's surface, much like cream is taken from milk. This can only be done on sunny, dry days with a slight breeze, and only with traditional wooden rakes. Its scarcity and labour-intensive harvesting make fleur-de-sel the most expensive type of salt. It also retains moisture and a blue-grey tint from its high mineral content. Use fleur-de-sel as a finishing salt to add an impressive dash of flavour to meat, seafood, vegetables, even sweets like chocolate and caramel.
Kosher salt, also known as koshering salt, is flakier and coarser-grained than regular table salt. Its large grain size makes it perfect for sprinkling on top of meat, where it releases a surprising blast of flavour. Kosher salt also dissolves quickly, making it a perfect all-purpose cooking salt.
HIMALAYAN PINK SALT
Of the different types of salt, Himalayan salt is the purest form of salt in the world and is harvested by hand from Khewra Salt Mine located where the Himalayan Mountain Range runs through Pakistan. Its colour ranges from off-white to deep pink. Rich in minerals, this salt contains all of the 84 natural trace minerals and elements found in the human body, giving it a strong and yet more complex flavour than many other salts.
As you’ll guess, smoked salt is created by smoking rock or sea salt over a wood fire. The process can be either achieved by either hot or cold smoking, and salt is usually slow-smoked for up to two weeks, typically over usually hickory, mesquite, apple, oak or alder wood. This as a rich, smoky barbeque flavour to the salt, that’s stronger with hot smoking and subtler with cold. Great to use with meat and hearty, robust vegetables.
PICKLING SALT Designed for this specific purpose, pickling salt is almost pure sodium chloride, containing none of the other minerals founding sea salt, nor the extra iodine or anti-caking agents that are added to regular table salt (to prevent the grains adhering and forming lumps), all of which can create ugly discolouration in pickled and preserved food stuffs.