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Looking to take mealtime to the next level of tastiness? Then it’s time to move beyond simple table salt and open your eyes (and mouth) to the many varieties of this staple seasoning.
Salt plays an important role in the kitchen no matter how it’s used. It can bring life to dishes with just a dash during or after the cooking process, and it can even bring out sweetness when sprinkled on certain desserts.
But nowadays, shopping for salt can be a little tricky as a perplexing array of different types has become available at grocery stores across the country.
Bernard Ibarra, vice president of culinary experiences and executive chef at Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes, California, is an expert in the business of making salt. With the resort’s property stretching along the Pacific Ocean, Ibarra has easy access to salt water, which he transports, dries in a special glass and then transforms into a wide range of regular and flavored salts for Terranea's eateries.
While Ibarra has experience infusing salts with unique flavors from natural items in California (like lemon, fire smoke and wild strawberries), TODAY Food asked him to stick to the salty basics.
Here are some of the most popular types of salt on the market and what makes them ideal for use in certain dishes.
Folks seeking a reliable salt that will work well in most recipes should turn to kosher salt. While most salts are actually kosher salts, Ibarra said, brands labeled as such will have a coarse grain and are the best to add into dishes that need to be cooked or baked.
Food Network star Ina Garten is a fan of using Diamond Crystal kosher salt when cooking.
“The one ingredient that most people use wrong is salt," Garten told Bon Appétit. "You also have to use the right one for the right occasion."
If it's good enough for the Barefoot Contessa, it's definitely good enough for us.
Sea salt has a fascinating historical background.
"10,000 years ago or more, when the seas were covering most of the planet, the water evaporated and when the glaciers evaporated, the water started to freeze and the molecules in the water got smaller," Ibarra said. "When this water recedes from those caves, they left the salt deposits."
Although salt can be collected from these natural deposits, it can also be procured from buckets of seawater, sifted and dried out manually.
Sea salt flakes come in different sizes, but a fine flake is ideal for topping off a salad, entrée or dessert to preserve its taste and texture. Maldon Sea Salt is one of Al Roker's (and Garten's!) all-time favorite ingredients.
Truffle salt is salt that has been infused with truffles, a type of mushroom with an aromatic, umami-packed essence.
To make this unique flavor of salt, the truffles are first dried and then added to a plain salt to infuse. To allow for a greater infusion, Ibarra told TODAY that sometimes "chopped truffles and salt crystals are ... massaged together."
Truffle salt can be used to add a subtle earthy flavor to many dishes. Similar to a dash of truffle oil, a sprinkling of this infused salt can bring a little umami to shoestring french fries, popcorn, plain kettle chips or even a grilled cheese sandwich.
This beautifully hued salt is making waves not only as a seasoning, but also as a handy grilling tool when sold in large block form. But what is it, exactly?
"Himalayan salt is rock salt mined from the Punjab region of modern-day Pakistan," Ibarra explained.
The pink color comes from minerals that naturally occur in the salt, including magnesium, potassium, calcium and (mainly) iron. This salt is primarily used as a table salt or flavor enhancer, but is occasionally used interchangeably during the cooking process. It has a lot of minerals, is extremely dry and contains no moisture.
Iodized salt is a common item in most pantries and is basically synonymous with table salt. The name refers to the iodine that has been added to the salt to fortify it with a key mineral from which many people suffer a deficiency. This type of salt has a fine grain, which means it will easily dissolve in most dishes during the cooking process.
A relatively inexpensive salt, iodized salt makes a great base for adding different types of flavoring agents. For example, Ibarra mixes dried kelp with iodized salt to enhance the nutritional value.
For people who enjoy preserving various vegetables, like cucumbers, beets or red onions, a pickling salt can be a very useful pantry item.
According to Ibarra, pickling salt grains are smaller than kosher salt, which makes it easier to measure so home cooks don't over-salt their veggies. Pickling salt is unique in that, unlike many other salts, it does not have any other additives (like minerals or anti-caking agents) which would ultimately impact the pickling process or affect the color of a dish.
Since it tends to clump up pretty easily, it should be kept in an area with absolutely no moisture.
Salt blocks are large, solid masses of salt that have developed at the bottom of salt marshes. They accumulate in deposits and are so dense that they have to be cut or carved manually, which is usually done in rectangular block shapes.
Once trimmed into blocks, the salt can be used like a brine to cure thin pieces of meat.
"You could cure thinly sliced fish or meat between two slabs of Himalayan sea salt," Ibarra said. "The minerals will slowly infuse with the moisture of the meat or fish and 'marinate' them in a dry brine so to speak, because it has the moisture of the fish and meat and minerals of the salt."