If you follow the internet’s finest cooking gurus, you’ve probably sensed a shift in the standard spice cabinet repertoire. No, I’m not talking about white people’s weird obsession with turmeric circa 2016 or Trader Joe’s annoyingly ubiquitous everything bagel seasoning. I’m talking about salt, or to be more specific, gourmet salt. It’s no secret that interest in fancy salts is on the rise. Pink Himalayan salt quickly became a millennial pantry stable in the mid-2010s, and in 2018, Samin Nosrat’s Netflix show Salt Fat Acid Heat introduced English-speaking audiences to the importance and variety of salt in Japanese cuisine. Mordor Intelligence suggests that demand for gourmet salt is only going to rise in the next few years.
For those who haven’t experienced a wide range of different types of salt, buying anything other than plain old table salt may seem like a waste of money. But just like you may use different types of flour from one recipe to the next, different types of salt can produce varying flavors and textures in your food. The shape, size and mineral content of a salt can all make a significant difference in a finished dish. Let’s take a look at some of the best gourmet salts out there and what you should use them for.
If there’s any salt that’s gained cult status, it has to be Maldon Sea Salt. Maldon comes from the Blackwater estuary in Maldon, England, and food professionals like Ina Garden and Ferran Adrià can’t get enough of it. But what makes it so special? It turns out that salt, like the grapes used for making wine, takes on different flavor characteristics depending on where it’s harvested. Salt from Maldon is known for its light, clean flavor compared to other salts. The salt flakes are also pyramid-shaped, which, according to Maldon, allows them to “release their saltiness with sweet precision.” That makes this variety a fantastic finishing salt. Those who want to foray into the world of fancy salt would do well to start with Maldon.
The go-to salt brand for chefs like Samin Nosrat and Alison Roman, Diamond Crystal is also a great entry point into the gourmet salt world. However, you don’t need to be a pro chef to use this stuff. In fact, it’s so beloved because you’re much less likely to over-salt a dish when you’re using Diamond Crystal, so it’s perfect for home cooks who never measure anything. The small, dense grains of salt you get from a brand like Morton’s are super, super salty. But because of the way Diamond Crystal is harvested, you get larger, hollow flakes that don’t have such an intense saltiness to them. They dissolve more quickly, and they also stick to your food much easier. Plus, many recipes call for Diamond Crystal salt specifically, so it’s a safe bet if you’re in the kitchen a lot.
All the bakers out there may want to give La Baleine Fine Sea Salt a try. It’s produced in Camargue, France, an area that’s been well-known for its salt production for centuries. While many of the salts you’ll find on the market are industrially produced, that’s not what you’re getting with La Baleine. Rather, this sea salt is naturally occurring as a result of the wind and sun in this particular location in France. While this sea salt is versatile and can be used for just about anything, it’s particularly popular in the baking world because of its consistency and lightness, which makes it easy to fold into doughs.
Finishing salts can be as clean and pure as Maldon, or they can be combined with other ingredients and infused with other flavors to create something special that will do more than just enhance the flavors that are already on your plate. Enter the Jacobsen Salt Co.’s infused sea salts. While it’s unlikely that any cookbook author is going to call for these specific salts in a recipe, for true salt lovers, they’re a fun addition to your spice rack. From the classic infused black garlic salt to the clever but less-common lemon zest salt, these beautiful flaky selections add an extra touch of flavor to whatever you’re making. Just keep in mind that this stuff isn’t great for replacing plain salt in recipes.
You didn’t think I would cover gourmet salts without invoking the famous pink Himalayan salt, did you? Many brands sell pink Himalayan salt, and these days, you can find it just about everywhere on grocery store shelves. It seems like the main reason for its meteoric rise in popularity mostly came down to somewhat-dubious health claims—there’s actually little evidence that pink Himalayan salt is any better for you than any other kind of salt out there. Even without the health benefits, though, this type of salt is saltier than your typical container of Morton’s, which means you can use less of it. Additionally, it has a slightly floral flavor to it, which can add an extra layer of complexity to some dishes. But hey, if you just want to buy it because it’s pretty, go for it.