I first encountered kosher salt some years ago when I bought my first Barefoot Contessa cookbook and noticed most of her recipes specifically called for kosher salt. At the store, I picked up a box of Morton kosher salt, and I never went back to regular table salt again.
Personally, the only reason I liked kosher salt better was because it’s not as salty as the iodized version I used to buy in cardboard canisters. But in writing this post, I dug around online and discovered why cooks like to use kosher salt in their kitchen.
We should begin by noting that the popularity of kosher salt is a recent phenomenon. Thanks to all the hype surrounding cooking shows on the Food Network nowadays, table salt has been cast aside into the dusty corners of our pantries. But don’t be so quick to disregard that table salt. You’ll see why in a moment.
Let’s begin at the beginning. All salt consists of sodium chloride and happens to be the only rock consumed by humans. All salt is also made by some process of evaporation. Here we’ll look at the three main types of salt found in American kitchens.
- Table salt is made by driving water into an underground salt deposit or mine. This brine is then evaporated, leaving fine, cubic crystals that resemble granulated sugar. Table salt usually includes additives like iodine (to prevent thyroid disease) and/or calcium silicate (to prevent clumping). It has a sharper taste than kosher and sea salts, but because it dissolves quickly, it is the baker’s salt of choice. When baking, do not use any other salt or else it may not fully dissolve and thus leave your baked goods not so good.
- Sea salt is harvested from evaporated seawater and essentially undergoes no processing, and so it retains much of the minerals from where it came. It is coarser than table salt, and because it’s expensive and loses flavor when dissolved, sea salt is best put into a mill and placed on the table as a condiment.
- Kosher salt is made the same way as table salt except the brine is constantly raked during the evaporation process. The result is a flaky, coarser, purer tasting, less salty salt perfect for taking a pinch of and adding to savory foods while cooking. It contains no preservatives and comes from under the ground or sea. Kosher salt is not itself kosher; it takes its name from the fact that it’s used to make meats kosher. Its larger, flatter granules won’t dissolve right away, so it does a better job of extracting the blood by sitting longer on the meat.
And that’s why I prefer to cook with kosher salt. Of course, when a recipe calls for salt, it usually refers to table salt. You can substitute kosher salt by taking into account that kosher salt granules are larger than table salt granules and measuring about a two-to-one ratio in volume of kosher to table.
While the latest medical news say Americans consume too much salt (leading to high blood pressure), salt in moderation helps make eating even more enjoyable. It can take the edge off bitter and acidic foods and enhance the natural flavors of others. So there you have it: Salt 101. Any thoughts?