What makes this salt different? Should I buy some? Is it better for some reason?
I did some reading, some Googling, found all these questions answered and then some! I never dreamed there would be so much information out there just about salt. When to use which kind, flavor tests of all brands, detailed descriptions of the differing harvesting methods and price comparisons. What makes my writing this little salt essay really amusing is (much to the chagrin of my family) I have to force myself to salt things sufficiently to begin with, let alone be fussy about which brand of salt I am going to use.
Let's start with my pantry: I stock two kinds: regular old fashioned Morton table salt which I use mostly for baking and filling my salt shakers and a coarse grained Morton kosher salt which I use in my salt mill and for the rest of my cooking. Never really considered I needed anything else. I have never compared my salts nor have I ever considered getting a group together and doing a salt tasting. I don't even remember having a discussion with anyone about which salt they use. And now it won't be necessary because results of various salt testings are available online and in magazines.
After much consideration I narrowed a list down to four and will give you a brief description of each, allow you to compare photos of them, tell you where each come from, how they are made, how much they cost, how and where to use each one and how they differ in taste.
Some basic facts: All salts we consume are made from sea salt or mined from inland salt deposits. There are four common varieties: table salt, kosher salt, sea salt, and fleur de sel (a type of sea salt).
The difference in taste between sea salt and table salt is a matter of texture and time. The flaky crystals of sea salts make them dissolve on the tongue more quickly. That's why some people think they are saltier.
Morton Table Salt:
Table salt is made by sending water into salt deposits and then evaporating the mixture until only salt crystals remain. It's a very fine salt. Use for: baking, salting water for pasta, filling salt shakers and a helping hand around the house. About 4 ¢ per ounce. (Don't you love the little girl with the umbrella?)
Morton Coarse Kosher Salt:
Kosher salt gets its name because of its role in making meat kosher. Although kosher salt is harvested like table salt, it is raked during evaporation to give the grains a block-like structure that allows the crystals to better absorb blood from animal carcasses. This turns out by far to be the most popular salt; most chefs use this in their everyday food preparation. It is good on fries, shines on the rim of a margarita glass, enhances pasta dishes and in general is an all purpose salt. About 6 ¢ per ounce, a bargain considering everything it does. ( The little girl with the umbrella got smaller and seems to be taking a back seat to a mass of vegetables.)
Maldon Sea Salt:
The British coastal town of Maldon, Essex, has been a salt-producing center since the Middle Ages. The flakes of this salt are "evaporated in large stainless steel pans, using many of the traditional skills handed down by generations of salt-makers. The salt crystals are hand harvested daily using traditional long handled rakes, a process known as 'drawing the pans.' "
The crystals give a wonderful crunch and glitter to almost any food. This was a favorite with chefs for finishing dishes: sprinkling on meats and vegetables and believe it or not, dusting your ice cream with this salt enhances the flavor. (I always have liked salt on my watermelon and cannot wait to try this particular salt on my next wedge.) Cost: 65¢ per ounce.
Fleur de Sel:
Often regarded as the world's finest salt, it is texturally superior to any other. When sun and wind conditions are ideal, fleur de sel, "flower of salt," blossoms on the surface of salt ponds. It is hand-harvested, collected by workers who scrape only the top layer of salt before it sinks to the bottom of large salt pans. Traditional French fleur de sel is collected off the coast of Brittany. It is slightly damp, has a vague ocean smell and is a little greyer than the other salts. Uses: topping off steak and vegetables. Cost: a whopping $2.16 per ounce! It's lovely, really, but is it worth that price?
So to conclude: use regular old fashioned table salt for baking etc.; use kosher salt for sauces, in soups and stocks and in seasoning liquid mixtures. As for the specialty salts, you probably don't need to rush out and buy them, but if a food fanatic is kind enough to present you with one, use it for the finishing touches on just about everything, desserts included.
I hate to say I told you so, but I guess my pantry was stocked correctly to begin with!