Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Salt But Were Afraid to Ask

Credit: Salty Seattle
You don't get it until you get it. Similar to sentiments made by a former Justice of the Supreme Court on the topic of porn, salt is one of those delicate subjects that many don't understand until they . . . well, until they understand it!

To help debunk some salty myths, I've enlisted the help of Salty Seattle, aka Linda Nicholson. Salty's resume is impressive and growing--she was recently featured on Gordon Ramsey's hit show, Master Chef, and will be highlighted in an upcoming episode of Foodography on the Cooking Channel. As her name implies, she's smitten with salt. So much so, in fact, that she's been known to trek to the coast, collect seawater, and make her own. Needless to say, she's an expert and (full disclosure) a close friend.

SW: To start, can you tell me what the big differences are among traditional salts?

Salty: As a general rule, table salt is saltiest, kosher is a little less so, and finishing salt is more balancing, due in part to its mineral content. An important thing to remember is that finishing salt isn't usually used to cook with; it's used to finish a dish.

So I'd want to put less salt in a dish if I were planning on topping it with finishing salt?

Definitely. In fact, I think finishing salt opens up the door for the rebirth of salt at dinner parties. In the past, it was thought of as rude to the host to salt your food, but I put out finishing salts and then encourage my guests to play with their palates. For that reason, I'll sometimes deliberately under salt when I'm entertaining.

I know nothing about salt. How do I pick a good one?

As we've all been hearing, typically things that are grown within 100 miles of where you are will pair well with other things that are 100 miles from you. So if morels are in season the same time as duck eggs, you can bet they'll be a good pairing.

The same is true of salts. Salts from the Washington coast usually pair well with Washington foods, but the minerality of the salt--and where it's from--has a huge impact on the taste. If you really want to learn about salt, go to the bulk section of a spice shop, spend $10, and buy 5 different salts. Once you try them side-by-side, you'll start to get it.

There are so many different kinds, though. How do I know which ones to choose?

Pay attention to the different crystal structures. For example, if you are serving something hot, a big, fluffy texture will do well because it will melt into the dish. For something cold, like a tomato, a more solid crystal structure provides a good textural juxtaposition between the crunch of the salt and the squishiness of the tomato.

I've been seeing a lot of blended salts lately. What about those?

If you're just getting into salts, I'd recommend focusing on pure salts--pink, Hawaiian, Cyprus--before jumping into blended. Once you know what you like, you can start to experiment with blends. Secret Stash Sea Salts, a local company, has some great ones.

Is there a "best" salt?

I had a salt-tasting party this past year, and over 60 salts were featured. The definitive front-runner was the Maldon salt. Maldon is uniquely beautiful because it has a big flake and maintains its structure, then melts away in your mouth. It's soft and delicate, without being overly salty.

If you're not making it yourself, where do you shop for salt?

My favorite salt boutique, The Meadows, is out of Portland.

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