Ask Chef Hosch and Ann

PHOTO PROVIDED Shown are a several different varieties of salt used for cooking.

Q: Salt … what is the difference between all the varieties out there? Are there some that are healthier for us to use?

A: There does seem to be an abundance of salt out there lately so I understand the confusion about the types and the reason for them all. You might see more of a craze with different salt flavors in the culinary field and restaurants. Chefs like to get creative and try new things more than the average home cook.

There are reasons behind which salts to use when, as well as some different health reasons for certain people. Salt comes from either the sea or the earth and there are a few different types including kosher, Crystalline sea salt, flaked sea salt, Fleur de Sel, rock salt and pickling salt. With these types come a variety of textures, origins and uses. These are the basics and there are many kinds of gourmet salts, either natural or infused with different flavors.

Table salt is the most common and is mined from the earth. It also is processed and refined until the trace minerals are removed and it becomes pure sodium chloride. This process makes the salt more bland and bitter than the unprocessed varieties, not to mention the removal of the benefits of its trace minerals.

Most table salt is available in either plain or iodized forms, where the salt is artificially sprayed with a coating of iodine. This iodizing process began with the major salt manufacturers in the 1920s during the Great Depression, in cooperation with the government, after a majority of people were found to be suffering illnesses caused by iodine deficiency, which easily was preventable with this process.

These days we know that most people need less than 225 micrograms of iodine daily, which can be found naturally in seafood and many dark greens, as well as sea salt.

Sea salt typically is unrefined, so the minerals it contains may include iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc and iodine. These minerals contribute to its pure clean flavor, which is said to carry the tang of the ocean. Whether coarse or fine, sea salt is the ideal general purpose salt good for every dish in your kitchen.

As we have seen, salt comes in a variety of colors and sizes and from every corner of the Earth. The colors they gain are from natural elements incorporated into the salt crystals as they are produced as pure salt is pure white or translucent. With these different colors come different minerals and different health benefits of each.

When you are cooking, or finishing with any salt, there will be a difference in the amount you want to use. Table salt is stronger because it is more refined than sea salt and kosher salt is larger pieces so the best rule is to taste as you go. If you are using a larger grain add it to the individual finished dish and not the whole pot.

Flavored salt can be fun to experiment with while cooking. There can be any number of flavor combinations and you can easily make your own. Personally, I like to take fresh herbs from the garden or the store and add it to a small container of sea salt and let it sit for at least a day to develop the flavor. I use vanilla beans cut in half length wise and scraped to pick up a little sweet and salty combination that can be used in desserts as well as savory dishes.

Just remember to only make small amounts at a time because they go bad faster than plain unaltered salt. These flavored salts are great for any dish you create and add an interesting twist to any meal.

Hunter is Chef Hosch and Ann’s sous chef. She received a degree in culinary arts from Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in 2002. After working in the field for several years, she went back to school at The Culinary Institute of America, graduating in 2005 with a degree in baking and pastry arts. She has worked in several different kitchens on both sides of culinary and baking.