Salt is easily the most used ingredient in our kitchen, but also the one we never give much thought to until we’re eating something that we think could use an extra pinch or two. And it’s not just savory recipes that benefit from the briny, bitter flavor — just ask anyone who’s ever tasted a salted caramel cookie or pretzel dipped in chocolate.
When I started to experiment with recipes and culinary tricks, I suddenly found myself staring at the different options for salt in my local grocery store and wondering what could set them apart from each other. In order to understand a bit more about those crystals we sprinkle on our food, I consulted chef Samin Nosrat’s best-selling book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking ($20.99, Amazon). I was already a huge fan of her Netflix series, so I knew she’d clear things up nicely. I also dug around to find the facts on pink Himalayan salt, which has become more and more popular in recent years.
Here’s a breakdown of the differences between the four main salts we rely on to get our meals tasting just right:
- Regular Table Salt: According to Nosrat, this commonly found option is “very salty” — meaning a little goes a long way. That’s because the crystals are so small, dense, and usually include added iodine that gives food a slightly metallic flavor that we associate with the seasoning. They also often include additives like anticaking agents to keep it from clumping up in the shaker and dextrose (a type of sugar) that helps to stabilize the iodine. “Though neither of these additives is harmful, there is no reason to put them in your food,” she writes. “If you have only table salt, go get yourself some kosher or sea salt.”
- Kosher Salt: Nosrat describes this option as “inexpensive and unforgiving,” both of which can be incredibly helpful while whipping up a recipe. She also claims it has a more “pure” taste than regular table salt, which is why she advocates for using kosher salt on a regular basis instead. The larger flakes also make it easier to grab with your fingers rather than sprinkling with a shaker.
- Sea Salt: Like kosher options, natural sea salt comes in large flakes. As the name implies, they are formed after sea water evaporates. Nosrat mentions that this extraction process also tends to make it a more expensive option. “You are paying primarily for texture, so use the flakes in ways that allow them to stand out,” she writes. “Not dumped in pasta water.”
- Pink Himalayan Salt: Nosrat doesn’t mention this trendy salt in her book — likely because it was published before the rosy crystals became super popular — but I had to look into it considering how many people describe it as the holy grail of all salts. The crystals come from one of the world’s largest salt mines in Pakistan, which is why it has a higher levels of natural minerals and lower levels of sodium. According to Healthline, however, even though there are about 84 minerals found in pink Himalayan salt, they are still in such a small amount that they don’t really make that much of an impact. “It would take 3.7 pounds of pink Himalayan salt to obtain the recommended daily amount of potassium,” Healthline explains. As for the lower level of sodium, there’s only about a 20 milligram less than regular table salt.
At the end of the day, the best salt choice really depends on your own preference for flavor and shape (and whether or not your doctor wants you to cut back on all of the above). As Nosrat says in her book, “what matters most is that you’re familiar with whichever salt you use.” That simply means experimenting with how much a pinch or a palmful of whatever salt you buy can change the flavor of your favorite meals.
Now you just need to get in your kitchen and start taste-testing!
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