Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Worth Your Weight in Salt

I recently got a question about Sea Salt. Why, for goodness sakes, are some little packages worth $20 dollars? Why is table salt so cheap? How come they can taste so radically different? Cooks Illustrated, the reputable magazine known for testing and retesting their recipes, took a look at salts to discover which was the best, and whether you should really take out a second mortgage to season your stake.

First of all, where does salt come from? That depends on the type. To get normal table salt which might run you 36 cents a pound, water is pumped through underground mines to create a brine. The liquid is brought to the surface and rapidly evaporated to eliminate impurities. Big flaky sea salt, on the other hand, is gathered from large pans of ocean water slowly left to evaporate. When the large salt crystals fall out, they are raked up, and marked up! $36 a pound! Kosher salt also harvested from the sea and manufactured under rabbinical supervision for curing meats.

The size of the crystals depends on how the salt is processed, table salt is obtained rapidly and yield small grains, while the slower process of sea salt allows big flakes to fall out naturally.

In a general taste test, the sea salt did better than table or kosher. According to Professor Gary Beauchamp a ranking authority on the science of taste and smell at Monell Chemical Senses Center, larger flat crystals create a more pleasing taste sensation than small round particles. However, the actual flavor variation in salt actually comes from the mineral content, rather than extraction method. At its base form, all NaCl tastes identical.

Moral of the Story: If you're looking for something truly spectacular for a lovely side of meat, try Fleur de Sel de Camargue or Celtic Light Grey Sea Salt. If you need to add a pinch of flavor to a sauce or for making pasta water, reach for table or Kosher salt and if you're baking, lean towards a smaller grained salt to ensure good distribution.

This only scratches the surface of salt information. If you want to know more, check this website: