Forget the olive oil or cast iron skillet—salt is the most popular ingredient in your kitchen. It gives oomph to dishes, can transform something mediocre into something amazing and is essential for flavoring food. But with so many different types of salt on the market, how do you know which one to use when? Enter our handy guide to the most popular varieties.
12 Types of Salt (and Why It Matters Which One You Use)
1. Table Salt
This is your standard, find-it-in-every-kitchen-cupboard and on-every-restaurant-table type of salt. It’s a fine-ground, refined rock variety with anti-caking agents to keep it free-flowing. Iodine is frequently added as well to help prevent iodine deficiency (which can cause hypothyroidism). Use this guy for everyday stuff like salting pasta water or seasoning a finished dish.
2. Kosher Salt
According to Kosher dietary laws, as much blood as possible should be removed from meat before cooking. Because of this salt’s coarse, irregular structure, it’s great at doing exactly that. This one’s also a favorite among professional chefs who like the craggy texture (it’s great for tossing on food with dramatic flare). Tip: When subbing for regular table salt, you may need more since it can taste slightly less salty.
3. Sea Salt
Distilled from the ocean, sea salt can be coarse or finely ground. This variety also varies in color, depending on what minerals are present (Pink Himalayan sea salt, for example, gets its color from trace minerals like iron and magnesium). Because the process of mining it is more complex (flakes are collected from evaporated seawater), the price of sea salt is usually higher than your regular table salt. For that reason, you might want to use this one to sprinkle on top of a finished dish rather than seasoning while cooking.
5. Fleur De Sel
Have your in-laws coming over and want to impress? Sprinkle this special occasion variety (“flower of salt” in french) on top of your dish right before serving. This one is considered to be one of the more delicate and complex types of salt—and most expensive. (Psst… it’s especially good on caramel and chocolate.)
7. Hawaiian Red Salt (alaea Salt)
This unrefined and extra crunchy sea salt from Hawaii gets its eye-catching brick red color from the iron-rich volcanic clay (or alaea) with which it’s mixed. Due to its relatively high mineral content, Hawaiian red salt is less salty than standard table salt and is believed to boast additional nutritional benefits. Prized by native Hawaiians for its smooth, delicate taste and (purported) detoxifying properties, red alaea salt is frequently used as a finishing salt for all manner of regional dishes, and often makes an appearance in a variety of traditional ceremonies and rituals as well.
8. Kala Namak
Kala namak is a kiln-fired black rock salt mined in the Himalayan region of Pakistan and India. Though this type of salt is described as being “black,” the whole salt crystals actually range from brown to very dark violet, and turn a lighter shade of purple or pink when crushed. Aside from its unique appearance, kala namak also stands out for having a high sulfur content that gives the salt a particularly pungent flavor and aroma reminiscent of rotten eggs. Kala namak is a popular condiment and seasoning salt in Southeast Asian cuisine and is also used medicinally in Ayurveda as a means of treating digestive issues such as flatulence and heartburn.
9. Maldon Salt
This fancy artisanal sea salt hails from its namesake town in the UK, where it has been harvested since 1882. A darling of the culinary world—the irregular, pyramid-like crystals of Maldon make it an ideal finishing salt that enhances flavor, whilst adding textural and aesthetic appeal to sweet and savory dishes alike. Bottom line: If you’re looking for something that’s soft, crunchy and oh-so pretty, this flaky gourmet salt certainly fits the bill.
10. Truffle Salt
As the name suggests, this one is a flavored salt made from mixing standard or specialty sea salt with pieces of black or white truffles. Gourmands with a weak spot for truffles will swoon for the aromatic quality and subtle umami taste that this guy imparts to savory dishes like scrambled eggs, avocado toast and french fries (to name a few). That said, it’s worth noting that truffle salt should be used as a finishing touch, not as part of the cooking process, and must be stored in a cool, dry place, lest it turn into a clumpy, solid mass.
11. Smoked Salt
The result of ordinary sea salt that has been smoked with bark-free wood for up to two weeks, this aromatic salt is an instant hit with fans of campfire smell and barbecue flavor. Needless to say, smoked salt imparts a distinctly smoky taste, and is thus well-suited to seasoning hearty vegetables (think: mushrooms, potatoes, root veggies) and pretty much any kind of meat. That said, the flavor profile of smoked salt varies considerably based on the particular type of wood used in the smoking process—hickory, mesquite and oak are all popular choices—so you’ll have to start sampling the different options to determine which you like best.
12. Pink Salt
This bright pink beauty is most commonly sourced from the Himalayas in the Punjab region of Pakistan, but can also come from the Andean mountain region of Bolivia—and the buzz about it is not just because it’s easy on the eyes. Though its high price tag makes it an impractical choice for everyday use, pink salt is said to be a healthier choice than standard table salt, despite its comparable sodium content, primarily because it’s packed with trace minerals that regular salt doesn’t provide. That said, there’s scant to no science supporting the claims surrounding pink salt and it’s unlikely that consuming it would have any significant impact on one’s health. Still, if you want to give the stuff a try—you know, because you’re fancy—then feel free to use it at any point in the cooking process, or as a finishing salt with extra aesthetic appeal.