Kitchen Essentials: Salts and Why The Type and Brand You Use Matters
You know how I mentioned that I want to write about cooking and try some new things? I’m channeling my inner cooking nerd and doing just that.
Yes, I’m totally writing about cooking salts. Why? Because I find this topic fascinating and, more importantly, sorely neglected.
A few weeks ago, I shared a post on books that have helped me become a better cook. It was so well received (and fun to write!) that I couldn’t help but wonder, “why am I not writing about this stuff more often?” I mean, a) I love learning about it, b) I studied it in culinary school and in my previous jobs, and c) I truly want this blog to be a recipe and cooking resource.
So, things are going to get a bit technical today. If you love to cook, I have a feeling you’ll get some incredibly powerful knowledge out of today’s post.
Today’s topic is something I should have addressed years and years ago. Why? Because salt is included in every recipe on this site. Salt is the most important ingredient in your kitchen pantry. Learning how to properly season your food is one of the most powerful cooking skills that you can learn. I truly believe that with all of my heart.
If you’ve ever stood in the grocery aisle and stared at the huge variety of salts available – it is easy to feel overwhelmed and confused.
You may be have wondered why some recipes call for kosher salt, sea salt, or fill-in-the-blank salt, so I’m here to shed some light on the topic. The most important thing to remember is:
Salts are not interchangeable. More importantly, the brand and variety of salt that you buy and use affects every recipe you make. Yes, every single recipe.
In other words, if you’re following a recipe and it calls for “1/4 teaspoon of ___ salt” (or worse, a recipe simply states “1/4 teaspoon salt” and does not specify the variety of salt), you can, without even realizing it, use as much as TWO to FOUR to SIX TIMES the quantity of salt that a recipe was designed to contain!
How is that possible? Because every type and, more importantly, every brand of salt differs dramatically by density.
That little fact is insane and worth discussing – especially on a blog all about food! It is one of those deep, dark cooking secrets that no one really talks about.
This chart explains it all:
Chances are you’ve been aware that different types of salts behave or taste more or less ‘salty’ than others. The obvious enemy of choice is table salt (confession: I hate it).
I think most of us are aware that if a recipe calls for 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt, you can’t simply substitute 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt and expect the same results. It just doesn’t work that way. This all comes back to density.
But if you take a closer look at the table above (and I highly recommend doing so), you’ll notice something much more note-worthy. The density of the same type of salt varies dramatically by brand.
The most glaring example?
Kosher salt. One of the most popular types of cooking salts. The two most popular and well-loved brands of kosher salt are Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt and Morton Coarse Kosher Salt.
1/4 teaspoon of Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt weighs approximately 0.7 grams in weight. In comparison, 1/4 teaspoon of Morton Coarse Kosher Salt weighs 1.2 grams. Morton’s Coarse Kosher Salt is almost twice as dense as Diamond Crystal kosher salt. To add an even great layer of complexity to the mix, 1/4 teaspoon of Whole Foods Kosher Coarse Sea Salt weighs 2 grams. That is huge!
In other words, if you’re following a recipe that calls for kosher salt (and that recipe does not specify a brand or weight – and let’s face it, no recipes do), you could end up with a very under-seasoned, or worse, over-seasoned dish.
You may not follow specified salt quantities for this reason. But chances are, you might! If you look at almost any savory recipe on this site, you’ll notice that I do not list salt quantities. I will if it’s critical to a recipe, but I try my best to avoid it for this very reason. It makes me nervous.
My favorite (highly recommended) go-to cooking salt is Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. From my own experience, it is the only brand of salt used in most restaurants – chefs love this salt and that endorsement means a lot to me.
I buy a 3-lb box of it every few months and as long as I can get my hands on it, I don’t use anything else. Ok, I’ll occasionally use sea salt or finishing salt (Maldon or Fleur de Sel), but that’s it.
I love it for several reasons:
- It’s incredibly easy to pinch! I keep a small bowl of it near my stove and this is the only way that I season anything. I strongly advise getting rid of a salt shaker or grinder, and using your fingers for pinching and seasoning as you go! You’ll be able to control and adjust the seasoning of dishes much easier this way.
- It dissolves very well, sprinkles evenly, sticks well to foods, and you can physically ‘grind’ it finer with your fingertips for even faster dissolving. For cooking, you want to use easily dissolvable salts. For finishing, you want to use less easily dissolved salts (Maldon sea salt flakes or Fleur del Sel). But I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt for finishing all the time too.
- It is natural, there are no additives, and the flavor is pure.
- It is the least dense variety of kosher salt available – my preference of choice! You won’t over salt a dish with an extra pinch or two.
While this post is my no means an endorsement of one brand or another, I highly recommend seeking and trying out Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt and seeing what you think. If you don’t, simply adjust the quantity of salt to compensate for density, or avoid following salt quantities.
[Edited to add: Iodine is a very important dietary requirement. I eat enough other foods that are rich in iodine – and take multivitamins that contain iodine – that I do not feel the need to use iodized salt, but please know that kosher salt does not contain iodine. If you prefer and need to use iodized salt, just adjust the amounts in recipes to reflect its higher density.]
Either way, I strongly advise sticking with one type of salt consistently for all of your cooking! If you constantly switch between sea salt or kosher salt or table salt, you’ll lose the intuition that comes from using one type of salt over and over again. I’m so intuitively familiar with the relative ‘saltiness’ of this brand that I know how much I need to use in order to achieve the level of seasoning a recipe calls for.
Seasoning is kind of like learning how to ride a bicycle. It takes a while to figure it out, but eventually it becomes second nature!
Are you still there? Hopefully my crazy technical talk didn’t get too boring. I hope you found this information helpful and useful in the kitchen! Let me know if you want me to share more posts like this in the future or if you have any questions!