At Bon Appétit, we develop all of our recipes using Diamond Crystal kosher salt. The reason for this comes down largely to the consistency of the product and its wide-reaching availability. But is kosher salt really the best salt for you and your home kitchen? Maybe—maybe not. Is iodized table salt automatically bad because it’s more highly processed? Not necessarily. Today, we’re demystifying salt. All types of salt: kosher salt, regular table salt, unrefined salt, Himalayan pink salt, coarse-grained salt, fine salt, sea salt, you name it.

There’s so much nuance to the world’s most ubiquitous seasoning agent and, in turn, so much misunderstanding. So we spoke to selmelier—yes, a salt sommelier—and author of Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, Mark Bitterman. His book is a taxonomy for salt. In it, he breaks down the different types of salt, how they can be applied, versatility, environmental impact, and why it all matters. For many people, “there’s never been any effort or economic rationale for breaking it down or looking at what’s under the hood when you buy a box of salt,” says Bitterman. “Prior to 15 years ago, it was just a box of salt.” No more! Let’s dig in.

What even is kosher salt?

Technically, kosher salt is a type of sea salt, as is nearly all of the salt used in home kitchens. It’s also the seasoning agent chefs and many home cooks swear by, which makes sense—it’s cost-effective, available, and reliable. “Kosher salt is a standardized product that’s the same everywhere in America by brand. So you can buy any brand of kosher salt, like Diamond Crystal or Morton kosher salt, and it’ll always be the same,” says Bitterman. (Though, once you find your preferred brand of kosher salt, you should stick to it, because not all brands are equal when it comes to salinity by volume. More on that later.) “It has a larger flake [than table salt] that’s popular because it’s easy to manipulate with your fingers.” Read: easy to control, hard to oversalt. 

The name kosher salt is not necessarily a reference to Jewish culinary standards. There’s no rabbi blessing large industrial bins of salt in a warehouse somewhere. It doesn’t come from religiously significant salt mines, nor is it a Jewish mineral (although it is nice in matzo ball soup). Kosher salt got its name because, historically, it was used for its effectiveness in koshering meat, the Jewish process of preparing meat for consumption. The larger grains draw out moisture from meat faster, which is part of the koshering process.

Kosher salt rarely contains additives, but does that mean it’s necessarily the best? “It’s refined sodium chloride, which is effective in imparting saltiness to food, but it’s not a particularly natural way to do so,” says Bitterman. The goal for an industrialized salt-making process is “purity,” meaning the absence of naturally occurring minerals present in unrefined salt. For Bitterman, “those minerals contribute to the flavor.” (Again, more on that later.)

Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, 3 lb.$15 at Amazon$7 at Spice House

Okay, so what is table salt?

“Regular table salt (a.k.a. iodized salt) is an industrially manufactured, highly refined sodium chloride product with a variety of additives—but also a couple of benefits,” says Bitterman. It’s free-flowing, so it can work in a salt shaker better than any other salt. (If your number one goal in life is to use salt from a shaker, this is the one.) It also targets iodine deficiency, which is a global health issue. Iodized table salt is an effective tool to introduce iodine into food systems in parts of the world where iodine-rich foods are unavailable.

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