Salt is an essential ingredient in all kinds of cooking and baking. You may think sweet recipes don't need salt, but salt brings out the flavors in your cookies, cakes and other desserts. It particularly accentuates the flavors of butter, sugar, flour and chocolate. In bread baking, salt helps the gluten hold more water and carbon dioxide. It also creates a stronger and tighter crumb.
With so many kinds of salt available, how do you choose the right one for baking? It comes down to crystal size, with finer grains more appropriate for baking and larger grains better for cooking meat and finishing.
Table salt is typically produced by sending water down into inland, underground salt mines, then evaporating that water until only salt crystals remain. Most table salt in the U.S. includes iodide, a nutrient that prevents goiters (which was a problem about 100 years ago). It may also include a non-caking agent to improve the flow from the container.
Like the name suggests, sea water is evaporated in a number of processes to create salt in a variety of crystal structures, from fine to flaky to coarse. Sea salt also contains the minerals that are prevalent in the local sea water, thus adding color and flavor to salt. Fleur de sel and flaky sea salt are pretty and great for finishing. Sea salts, especially "artisan" salts, can be very expensive.
Kosher salt is typically just salt - additive free and available in medium and coarse grains. It can be produced from underground salt deposits or sea water. Morton's, which is sold nearly everywhere, is a small/medium grain kosher salt. Diamond Crystal is a large grain salt that is popular with foodies, but may be more difficult to source locally. ONE MORE THING: The term kosher refers to "koshering," the process of sprinkling larger crystals of salt over meat to draw out blood. All salt is Kosher.
BEST FOR BAKING
Fine sea salt, fine kosher salt or table salt.
BEST FOR COOKING
We like to use a small/medium grain kosher salt. It's rougher texture makes it easy to grab a pinch and sprinkle where you want. For pasta water or liquid based meals, table salt works well, too. When cooking meats like steak, try a coarse salt.
BEST FOR FINISHING
A fleur de sel or flaky salt dresses up baked goods, salads and other items, adding sparkle and crunch.
IN OUR KITCHEN
We keep it simple. We use a fine sea salt for baking, Morton's Kosher salt for cooking and Maldon's sea salt for finishing. They are all affordable, easily sourced and taste good.
substituting salt in a recipe
The volume and saltiness of salts are not the same. Some people feel that iodized table salt seems saltier than fine sea salt. And larger grained kosher salts may provide less salt flavor than medium kosher salts because the coarse structure leaves air gaps (less salt in the same teaspoon). Check the chart below if you need to make substitutions in a recipe that calls for a specific type or brand of salt.
Salt Mass and Volume
source: Serious Eats
want to learn more about salt?
Link to a great article about salt on Serious Eats here.
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