What Is the Difference Between Kosher, Sea, and Table Salt?  How do you know which one to use?

With so many different types of salt available today, it can be confusing.  How do you know which one is best?  Most home cooks are okay with using just one kind of salt.  But it has become increasingly common for recipes to indicate which type and brand of salt was used to develop the recipe.  Technically speaking, all salt is sea salt.  Whether is comes from a mined cave or from drying salt water, their differences come down to taste, shape, and use.  You can use them interchangeably – WITH SOME CAVEATS.  Here’s what you need to know.

  • Because different brands and styles of salt are wildly different in density and size, you will have to make an adjustment to the amount of salt used if you substitute one for another.
  • Whether you use sea salt, kosher salt, or both, stick to one brand for consistent results.
  • Find a salt you like and fine tune your recipes to that particular salt.
  • Taste, taste, taste and season accordingly.

Table salt is what most people think of as salt and is the most likely salt to be found in home kitchens.  I personally have not used table salt for many years.  The iodine in table salt can often leave an unpleasant and harsh taste in food.  It is refined to small, fine, grains and is quite dense, which means a little goes a long way.  A teaspoon of table salt weighs more than a teaspoon of kosher salt so you should use less table salt when substituting it for kosher salt and vice versa – use more kosher salt if substituting for table salt.  A simple conversion is 1 part table salt = 1½ parts kosher salt, depending on the brand.

Kosher salt, according to many chefs, is the best salt for all-purpose cooking.  It is the least salty salt, which means you’re less likely to oversalt dishes.  Most often sold in larger, coarse crystals, it is difficult to find “fine” kosher salt.  Chefs love it because of its “pinch-ability” – easier to grab between fingers which means you can distribute the salt with greater precision.  It is often used to salt pasta water or when salting meat and poultry prior to cooking.  It has a pure, less intense flavor.  The two most popular brands, Diamond Crystal and Morton are not the same and should not be used interchangeably without making an adjustment to the recipe.  Stick with one brand for consistency.  Morton is readily available in most grocery stores. 

Sea salt is the least refined of all three types and is available fine or coarse.  I prefer fine sea salt.  Two brands that I often use are Baleine (French) and Alessi (Italian).  Sea salt is the choice of most pastry chefs.  In baking, salt serves two purposes.  It is there for seasoning, but also to help with gluten development and browning.  It works well in saltshakers.       

Fleur de Sel is the purest form of salt you can get.   It is one of those small but indispensable touches, like good olive oil or fresh herbs, that changes an ordinary dish into perfection.  Because of its delicate nature and higher price relative to other salts, it isn’t meant for seasoning a dish while you cook it.  It is a finishing salt – you should use sprinkles of fleur de sel on anything that needs a little extra oomph and just before consuming – think salads, fish, meat, vegetables and yes, dessert. There are other similar flake salts from various parts of the world that are less expensive than fleur de sel.  Maldon salt from England is another very popular choice that has been used for a very long time.

Bottom line, not all salt is created equal.  While there is no shame is sticking to one multipurpose salt, the better the salt the better your food will taste.  Like wine, good salts carry the flavors and minerals of the place where they were harvested.  Whatever salt you like/choose, get to know it and use it all the time. In a short time, you’ll instinctively learn how much to use.

So, what’s in my kitchen?  My two everyday salts are Alessi Fine Sea Salt and Morton Course Kosher Salt.  And my secret weapon is Fleur De Sel.   I hope I have broadened your flavor palette.