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Types of Salt: Why to add complex flavors and minerals to your food

Yakima™ Applewood Smoked Salt on barbecued meat. Himalayan Pink Salt on roasted chicken. Hawaiian Black Salt on grilled pineapple. Kosher Flake Sea Salt on warm caramels.

Whatever the dish, high-quality sea salt's nuances of flavor and texture create a culinary experience unmatchable by plain old table salt. Learn how using different types of salt transforms your cooking skills, then check out our guide to Frontier Co-op's Gourmet Salts to learn which salts pair best with your favorite foods.

Why does salt taste so good and why do we crave it so?

Our sense of taste is hard-wired to detect and savor the salty flavors of the minerals and elemental compounds that our bodies need to maintain themselves. This compels us to seek out sodium, magnesium, potassium, calcium and zinc, to name a few, in our diets. But the mineral-rich marine and mined salts that our early ancestors sought are very different than the industrially refined table salt we are all familiar with today.

Table salt contains only one mineral: sodium chloride. It is mined from underground deposits by digging wells and dissolving the salt crystals with pumped-in water. The resulting brine is pumped back up to the surface where it's fed into machines that evaporate most of the water, then spin and heat the remaining slurry until the salt is dry. This method removes trace minerals in the salt and is more energy-intensive than most methods of sea salt collection, which is evaporated from large, shallow ponds of seawater.

Why it's time to get adventurous with salt

Chefs, savvy cooks, food lovers and dietary specialists recognize that there is a better way to use salts and minerals in our food. The specialty gourmet salts that are now trending in the culinary world provide more complex flavors and mineral profiles than table salt. For example, wood smoked salts (such as Alder Smoked Salt and Yakima™ Applewood Smoked Salt) and salts dusted with coconut shell charcoal (try Hawaiian Black Sea Salt) enhance grilled and barbequed food, while the saline bouquet of Fleur de Sel salt adds oceanic minerals to everything from seafood to salad dressings.

Since it's given little or no further processing after evaporation, sea salt retains trace minerals and other natural components after the evaporation. The dietary advantages to these gourmet salts is not only their enhanced mineral profiles, but that their flavors and colors can be so much more complex, interesting and intense than table salt. This encourages us to use them more judiciously on our food, as we would cayenne pepper, than that old salt shaker of refined sodium chloride. Sea salt crystals also are larger than table salt crystals, and sea salt's crunchy texture makes it a great finishing touch.

Learn more about Frontier Co-op's nine Gourmet Salts

Alder Smoked Salt

Alder Smoked Salt gets its authentic flavor from being slowly smoked over true alderwood -- the traditional smoking wood of the Northwest -- not from artificial flavorings or oils. This all-natural smoking process adds a sweet, true smokehouse flavor. Alder smoked salt pairs well with any grilled foods, especially salmon, asparagus, pork, ribs and burgers.

Fleur de Sel

Long considered the caviar of salts, Fleur de Sel (flower of salt) is comprised of slightly moist crystals that look like tiny snowflakes. This rare salt is hand-harvested from pristine salt marshes in Brittany, France, and tastes of the sea. Fleur de Sel has a floral aroma and briny, complex minerality. Pair it with delicate shellfish of any kind. It is the perfect salt for a mixed-from-scratch vinaigrette dressing on tender, fresh greens.

Grey Sea Salt

Our Grey Sea Salt is an all-natural sea salt, unrefined and unprocessed, sourced from clean coastal waters along the Guérande Region of Brittany, France. This robust, briny and mineral-rich sea salt is harvested by traditional Celtic methods using a paludier, a craftsman salt harvester. This is a lovely, aromatic salt to flavor water for boiling pasta, or to adorn grilled shellfish, bivalves and fish.

Hawaiian Black Sea Salt

Beautiful Hawaiian Black Sea Salt has a faceted texture that resembles little black diamonds. Pacific sea salt crystals are dusted with the purifying power of activated coconut shell charcoal to achieve its characteristic black shade and charred, smoky flavor. This coarse salt has large crystals which provide visual appeal and a pleasant crunch. Grind it on grilled pineapple slices, or add its charred flavor to traditional grilled fare such as steaks, burgers and chicken.

Hawaiian Red Sea Salt

Hawaiian Red Sea Salt is non-processed and rich in the trace minerals found in clean, natural sea water. A small amount of harvested reddish Hawaiian clay (‘Alaea) enriches the salt with the tang of natural iron oxide mineral. Traditionally, Hawaiians used this salt in ceremonies to cleanse, purify and bless tools and canoes, as well as in healing rituals for medicinal purposes. Try it on roasted pork, homemade jerky, smoked fish and grilled vegetables.

Himalayan Pink Salt

Himalayan Pink Salt is pure, hand-mined salt found deep inside the pristine Himalayan Mountains. The high mineral content of Himalayan salt crystals contributes to their color, ranging from deep reds to beautiful pinks. The fine grind Himalayan is sized perfectly for direct use in cooking. Try adorning tender white meats such as lean pork, chicken or turkey with the mineral rich flavor of this gorgeous salt.

Kala Namak Sea Salt

Kala Namak salt is also called “Indian Black Salt” or “Sanchal”. It is mined in Central India and contains sulfur minerals, which give it a potent aroma and flavor that resembles the pungent Indian spice asafetida. The large, reddish-black crystals are ground down to a fine grayish, rosy-pink powder. Use a bit of this salt to add earthy, aromatic pungency to lentils, curries and Indian dal.

Kosher Salt

Sprinkle a pinch of Kosher Flaked Sea Salt to perfectly finish a dish. Many recipes and chefs call specifically for kosher salt due to the unique shape of its flat crystals and the more rounded, less harshly alkaline flavor it has over ordinary table salt. The increased surface area of these kosher flakes help the salt adhere beautifully to foods such as pretzels, breads and salted caramels. Unlike some brands of kosher salt, ours is actually made from real ocean water.

Yakima™ Applewood Smoked Sea Salt

Yakima™ Applewood Smoked Salt is a flaky sea salt that is naturally smoked over true Eastern Washington Applewood at low temperatures. Aged applewood is one of the most popular fruit woods used in smoking foods because it yields a dense, fruity-sweet flavor, unlike most other woods. Season barbecued meats, marinades, brines and chutneys with this richly-flavored salt.

What's special about kosher salt?

While Frontier's Kosher Flake Sea Salt is Kosher certified by KSA, the word "kosher" actually describes the flake style of the salt. Kosher flakes are thin and flat, with more surface area than regular table salt. Since the structure of kosher salt is bigger than table salt, one teaspoon of table salt will taste saltier than one teaspoon of kosher salt. For this reason, always follow your recipe's recommendation for kosher versus regular salt, just as you would for fine grind versus coarse grind.

Many chefs prefer to use kosher salt because it's easier to control while cooking — it's flaky structure makes it easy to pinch until you get the desired amount, this way you don't over-salt your product. Additionally, kosher salt delivers a more rounded, less harshly alkaline flavor that ordinary table salt. While many brands of kosher salt are mined salt, Frontier's Kosher Flake Sea Salt is made from actual seawater.

When to stick with the basics?

While Frontier Co-op Gourmet Salts enhance a wide range of foods, simple sea salt remains a must-have for everyday seasoning. Also, fine grind sea salt and table salt are often better suited for precise measuring, especially for baking, canning, brining and pickling, unless otherwise specified in the recipe.

Four Benefits of Sea Salt

Salt is common yet extraordinary — what would our palates be without it? Though we enjoy it at nearly every meal, we give it relatively little attention. We took a closer look at the benefits of sea salt and found that there's much more to this precious ingredient than you'll find in a crusty shaker of table salt:

1. How it's harvested:

Sea salt is harvested through solar evaporation, with seawater left to evaporate naturally from large, shallow ponds. The process of solar evaporation is very slow — it can take years for the sun and wind to crystallize the saltwater — but it is less environmentally invasive than the process of mining salt from underground deposits.

2. How it's (not) processed:

Since it's given little or no further processing once evaporated, sea salt retains trace minerals and other natural components after the evaporation. These elements (which include nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium) add flavor — and often color — to the salt. These natural elements also add subtle flavor that varies according to the seawater from which the salt is harvested. Sometimes they give sea salts their defining properties, such as the tiny bits of clay that give gray sea salt its color, or the red volcanic clay of Hawaiian red sea salt.

3. How it tastes

Although sea salt and processed table salt contain about the same amount of sodium — so neither offers an advantage for those concerned with sodium consumption — many consider the naturally harvested, minimally processed, additive-free and mineral-containing sea salt to be the tastier choice.

4. How it's used

Sea salt is incredibly versatile. Use plain, granular sea salt for cooking and baking because the uniform grain ensures accurate, consistent measuring. A fine gourmet salt such as fleur de sel (the "caviar of salts") makes a wonderful condiment due to its more complex and nuanced flavor. Try it in freshly blended vinagrette over tender greens.

So, let's "pass" on the overly-processed iodized table salt and give the world's most popular condiment the respect it deserves. Try our gourmet salts, organic seafood seasoning blend or everyday coarse sea salt to discover the benefits of sea salt for yourself.

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