Sea Salt vs. Table Salt
By Janet Helm, MS, RD, and Sharon Denny, MS, RD
Just when gourmet sea salts are flying off store shelves and being elaborately showcased by chefs, the warnings to consume less sodium are getting louder. Excessive sodium intake is linked to increased blood pressure, stroke, coronary heart disease, left ventricular mass, urinary calcium excretion, osteoporosis and gastric cancer, but more research is needed in these areas.
Regular table salt usually comes from salt mines and is refined until it is pure sodium chloride. Sea salt is typically not as refined so it still contains traces of other minerals, including iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc and iodine.
While sea salt is sometimes promoted as a healthful alternative to regular table salt, the sodium content is essentially the same. The advantage is that some people use less when cooking or finishing with sea salt.
Cooking with Sea Salt
By Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD, LD
Although all salts are, well, salty, there are differences in taste among various kinds of sea salt. Wherever there is saltwater, you can find sea salt–and each region and harvesting method has its own unique attributes.
French sea salts are harvested from Atlantic seawater. Arguably the most famous French sea salt is Fleur de Sel (flower of salt)–ideal for salads, cooked fresh vegetables and grilled meats, and combining with sweet flavors like chocolate. Sel Gris (grey salt) is a “moist” sea salt considered by many to be the best quality salt available. Use it in cooking, baking, on seafood or vegetables or as a garnish. Mediterranean sea salt is ideal for sprinkling over your favorite foods. Use as a finishing salt or garnish over seafood or vegetables. Alaea sea salt is a pink Hawaiian table salt used to season and preserve. In addition to Hawaiian dishes, alaea is good on prime rib and pork loin, and it looks elegant sprinkled over fish. Smoked sea salt is great when grilling or oven roasting (a must when cooking salmon) and it adds a smoke house flavor to soups, salads, pasta and sandwiches. Black salt (actually a pearly pinkish gray) has a sulfuric flavor and is used in Indian cooking. Kosher salt–named for its use in meat preparation according to Jewish dietary guidelines–is not necessarily sea salt, although many recipes use the terms interchangeably.
To enjoy sea salt at the table, move beyond the shaker and buy a salt mill with a ceramic or plastic (not metal) grinding mechanism.
Using Sea Salt in Food Service
By Michelle Dudash, RD
Although sea salt is more expensive than table and kosher salt, food service managers need not write it off the menu! For one, you use a lot less of it than table salt, and its clean flavor can turn your offerings into best-sellers.
Size and shape of the salt crystal determines how quickly it dissolves in foods, so which salt you should use depends on what you’re making. Use fine grain as a finishing touch to delicate sauces and salads. Flakes make a lovely garnish and add a clean flavor and crunch to sliced heirloom tomatoes and handmade caramels. Larger coarse crystals are ideal for rubbing roasts or whole fish before cooking to seal in moisture and make a nice crust.
Most recipes that include salt refer to table salt. While it is generally accepted that sea salt can be substituted in similar quantities, always start with less than is called for and taste before adding more.
Storage life for salt is indefinite. It absorbs moisture so keep it in a sealed container to avoid caking. Sea salt is available in a variety of sizes, from a 4-pound bag of fleur de sel to a case of 26-ounce Baleine shakers to a 55-pound bag of New Zealand organic sea salt.