Not All Salt Is Created Equal
Salt, that most fundamental of all seasonings, has experienced a renaissance recently. No longer are chefs and home cooks bound to the industrially produced iodized table salt. However, as more and more varieties of salt continue roll out on market shelves, many chefs are left with questions as to the difference between all these varieties. Before you spend $29 on a 1.2-ounce jar of Amethyst Bamboo salt, consult this guide to where those tasty crystals come from.
Iodized table salt
To start, let’s examine the most common salt you are likely to come across. Iodized table salt is the salt found in shakers in most restaurants and is the most widely available salt in the U.S. This type of salt goes through a refinery to remove trace mineral contents, giving it a standard salty taste. The process of iodizing salt was started almost 100 years ago when it was discovered that iodine deficiencies were causing substantial health problems among newborns as well as adults. In order to combat this, table salt producers began supplementing their product with small amounts of iodine in the form of potassium iodide. Though the natural foods movement has incited somewhat of a backlash against processed foods such as iodized table salt, it should be noted that it provides a necessary nutrient that is very difficult to obtain from other sources.
Sea salt is a natural salt product that is harvested by evaporating the water out of sea or salty lake water. The process involves constructing various salt ponds along the shore and passing the water between pools as it is evaporated and the salt concentration increases. The process is a long one, taking five years for the water to concentrate to 25 percent salinity from a starting salt level of 3 percent. This type of salt retains trace minerals from the place it was harvested from, giving it a strong sense of place in its flavor profile.
Rock salt is the result of prehistoric oceans receding and evaporating, leaving their salt contents to be compacted in the earth’s crust. This compacted salt concentrates into caves, the most expansive of which can be found in India, where miners extract salt by the chunk. Another example of salt retaining trace minerals of its origin, rock salts have miniscule moisture contents creating an intense mouthfeel when eaten.