Common Salt – The Quintessential Seasoning

What is common salt?

The presence of the salt in food makes the food interesting. Chemically salt is sodium chloride (NaCl). It is found throughout nature.

Where is salt found in nature?

It is dissolved in the oceans with an average concentration of 2.68%. On land, thick salt deposits, formed by the evaporation of prehistoric oceans, are widely distributed. These deposits are true sedimentary rocks and are referred to as rock salt or halite.

People obtain salt from the environment in many different ways. Solid salt deposits are mined directly as rock salt and purified. Salt from sea water is isolated by solar evaporation. Underground salt deposits are solution-mined. This type of mining involves pumping water underground to dissolve the salt deposit, recovering the water with salt dissolved in it, and evaporating the water to isolate the salt.

What are the uses of common salt?

Beyond being essential to the survival of most plants and animals, salt is also used extensively in many industries. In the food industry it is used to preserve meats and fish because it can slow down the growth of unhealthy microorganisms. It is also used to improve the flavor of many foods. In the cosmetic industry it is used to make soaps and shampoos. In other chemical industries it is the primary source of sodium and chlorine which are both raw materials used for various chemical reactions. Salt is used when manufacturing paper, rubber, and ceramics. And it is commonly used for de-icing roads during the winter.

Classification of salt

Here, let’s have a look at the different types of salt that are used in the food industry. There are different types of salt based on the method of harvesting; and or based on the addition of other ingredients to the common salt.

Table salt – Most table salt is mined, but that salt is put into water, purified of other trace minerals, then re-dehydrated to create a uniform product. Table salts are usually 97 to 99 percent sodium chloride, with some added anti-caking agents, and a lot also include iodide, which is an essential nutrient that can get removed during the purification process (not to be confused with iodine). That’s why the packages of many unrefined kinds of salt say “not a source of iodide.”
Most table salt is iodized, meaning iodine has been added to prevent iodine deficiency, which can (and does, in much of the world) cause hypothyroidism and other maladies.

Kosher Salt – Kosher refers to the dietary regulation followed by people of Jewish faith. Despite the name, all kosher salt is not certified kosher. Rather, it’s used in the koshering process, when surface fluids are removed from meat through desiccation. Kosher 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 flavor. Kosher salt also dissolves quickly, making it a perfect all-purpose cooking salt.

Sea salt – 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 flavor profile.

“Sea salt” is a pretty broad term, as it includes some of the specialty salts described below. Sprinkle it on top of foods for a different mouth feel and bigger burst of flavor than table salt.

Types of sea salt:

  • Fleur de sel
  • Sel gris / Celtic sea salt
  • Flake Salt
  • Kona deep water sea salt
  • Alaska flake sea salt
  • New Zealand Lake Grassmere salt
  • Korean sogeum salt

Fleur de sel – Literally “flower of salt,” fleur de sel is a sea salt hand-harvested from tidal pools off the coast of Brittany, 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. Because of its scarcity and labor-intensive harvesting, fleur de sel is the most expensive salt, earning it the nickname “the caviar of salts.” “Fiore di cervia” is the Italian name for the Fleur de sel.

It retains moisture, and has blue-grey tint,from its high mineral content and oceanic beginnings. Fleur de sel is used as a finishing salt to add an impressive dash of flavor to meat, seafood, vegetables, even sweets like chocolate and caramel.

Sel gris / Celtic sea salt – This comes from the same salt pans as fleur de sel, but isn’t the cream of the crop. While fleur de sel is harvested from the top layer, sel gris is allowed to fall to the bottom of the salt pan before being harvested, giving it a higher mineral content and a gray color. This falls somewhere between basic sea salt and fleur de sel in both flavor and use, and it can also be ground very finely with volcanic rocks to make what is called sel gris-velvet, which creates an almost buttery feel as it melts on your tongue.

Flake Salt – Harvested from salt water through evaporation, boiling or other means, flake salt is thin and irregularly shaped with a bright, salty taste and very low mineral content. This shapes means the crunchy flake salt dissolves quickly.

Kona deep water sea salt – Water is brought up from depths of about 2,200 feet off the Hawaiian coastline and is then evaporated in the sun. This salt has only 78 percent sodium and has a very clean flavor despite its rich mineral content.

Alaska flake sea salt – Harvested directly from the seawater around Sitka, Alaska, this salt has nice, clear, brittle flakes.

New Zealand Lake Grassmere salt – Water is harvested from the deep ocean and brought to the seaside ponds surrounding Lake Grassmere. At the end of the summer, the salt crust is lifted from the bottom of the ponds.

Korean sogeum salt – Used for making kimchi, this salt is solar evaporated on a small island off the coast of Korea and looks like little blocks.

Black Salt – Black salt are salts thats harvested from rocks. It has other minerals naturally found within that gives unique characteristics to the black salt. The different types of black salt are:

  • Kala Namak
  • Hawaiian black salt
  • Cyprus black lava salt

Kala Namak – This vibrant salt is actually more purple-red than black in its solid form, and when you grind it down it takes on a pinkish hue, but its formal name, kala manak, translates to “black salt.” The color comes from the mineral greigite, and its pungent smell comes from its sulfur content. It has a cool square crystal structure that can make certain pieces look synthetic (akin to broken safety glass). The salt is packed in a jar with charcoal, herbs, seeds and bark, then fired in a furnace for a full 24 hours before it’s cooled, stored and aged. This process gives kala namak its reddish-black color, its pungent, salty taste and a faint, sulfurous aroma of eggs.
When used properly, it can be added to vegan food to mimic the taste of eggs.

Hawaiian black salt – This salt is made from sea water that evaporates in pools situated on hardened lava flows. The crystals are then mixed with activated coconut charcoal (again, for detoxification). It looks like little bits of hardened lava rock and brings a really earthy flavor along for the ride with just a slight sulfur aroma from the minerals in the lava pools.

Cyprus black lava salt – This one is similar to the Hawaiian version but hails from the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea. These large pyramid-shaped crystals are formed during natural solar evaporation and can grow to be over a millimeter in size. Also mixed with activated charcoal, these look like actual pieces of charcoal, have a very mild salt flavor, and can add great texture when used to finish a dish

Pink Salt – Himalayan version of this salt is mined in the Punjab region of Pakistan, mainly from the Khewra Salt Mine. The lesser-known Bolivian version is mined from the Andes mountains. While the salt’s pink color comes from trace amounts of iron oxide, the salt is predominantly sodium chloride, in the same chemical general range as basic table salt.

Red Hawaiian Salt -This varietal is made from standard Hawaiian sea salt (20 percent trace minerals, so pretty low sodium compared to table salt) combined with the red volcanic clay alaea, which is said to have detoxifying properties. It’s used in a lot of native Hawaiian dishes and has historically been used in religious ceremonies. It is used for centuries in ceremonial ways for cleansing, purification and the blessing of tools, red Hawaiian salt is also great in the kitchen, adding an attractive finish and robust flavor to seafood and meat, as well as traditional island dishes like poke and pipikaula, a Hawaiian jerky.

Smoked Salt – The salt is slow-smoked up to two weeks over a wood fire (usually hickory, mesquite, apple, oak or alder wood), smoked salt adds an intense and, yes, smoky flavor to dishes. Depending on the time smoked and the wood used, taste will vary from brand to brand. Smoked salt is the best of the different types of salt to use for flavoring meats and heartier vegetables, like potatoes.

Pickling Salt – Used for pickling and brining, pickling salt does not contain any added iodine or anti-caking agents, nor many of the trace minerals of sea salt, which can cause ugly discoloration of the preserved food.

Truffle Salt – One of the most common flavored salts, truffle salt is a great way to impart a subtle amount of truffle into a dish without needing to buy actual truffles. There are versions that incorporate both black and white truffles, and different brands use different salts mixed with varying amounts of tiny truffle bits.


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