Salts of the Earth

Photo: Hannah Whitaker

“Texture, the rate that it dissolves, the flavor that it imparts, the appearance”—that’s what distinguishes great salt, says Dan Soloway, owner of the wholesale spice company Kitchen Options. Below, we explain the differences among seven types, from plastic-shaker-grade table salt to tenderly harvested sel gris, and our chief food critic, Adam Platt, puts them to the test.

Left to right

Kosher Salt
David’s, $5.99/16 oz., Kalustyan’s, 123 Lexington Ave., nr. 28th St.; 212-685-3451
A rock salt harvested from mines and used by rabbis to extract blood from meat (hence “kosher”). The coarse crystals contain few additives and adhere well to food. Good for seasoning.
Taste?: “A smooth, unaggressive salt, with a nice texture.”

Himalayan Pink Salt
$20 a rock, Tools for Living, 142 Wooster St., nr. Prince St.; 212-471-0280
Known for extreme purity—thanks to the remote mountain location—and a pretty hue imparted by trace deposits of iron. Hand-harvesting adds to the high cost.
Taste? “Like a smoother, more subtle kosher salt. It’s probably not worth the price, but you’ve got to love the fact that it’s pink.”

English Flake Salt
Maldon, $7.99/8.5 oz., Gourmet Garage, 453 Broome St., at Mercer St.; 212-941-5850
From the highly saline waters of the River Blackwater, Maldon’s thin, flat crystals are usually sprinkled on a finished dish, and resemble sequins. They dissolve pleasantly on the tongue.
Taste? “I’d put it on something like smoked salmon. Feathery, almost translucent crystals, like snowflakes. Easily my favorite.”

Black Lava Salt
Palm Island Premium, $9.99/6 oz., Kalustyan’s
Taken from pools formed by lava flow in Hawaii, this salt is dark even before producers add charcoal to intensify the blackness and smokiness. Ideal for plank-cooking or grilling.
Taste? “Piercing, aggressive; like I’m sprinkling charcoal on my eggs.”

Table Salt
Morton Iodized Salt, $.99/26 oz., Walgreens (multiple locations)
Another rock variety, table salt often contains iodine, introduced as a dietary supplement in the twenties. Sensitive palates can sometimes detect bitter undertones.
Taste? “There’s a slight chemical backtaste. Lacks the crunchy, crystal mouthfeel we salt freaks covet.”

Gray Salt
Bay of Bengal, $4.99/8 oz., Kalustyan’s
Moist and often briny, “much like the ocean,” says Soloway. The granules adopt a gray-green color from trace minerals and clay. Works best with seafood.
Taste? “Harsher than the others. The grayish color makes it look like it’s been sifted through concrete.”

Trapani Sea Salt
Victoria Taylor’s Seasonings, $11.99/10 oz., Kalustyan’s
“People have been collecting this since the Phoenicians,” says Soloway. Trapani rakes its nearly pure salt—98 percent sodium chloride—from evaporated coastal pools.
Taste? “Sharp and clear, with almost too rocky a texture. Could use several turns through the grinder.”

Salts of the Earth