Salt is one of the most important ingredients in any kitchen. It adds its own flavor while accentuating the flavors of the foods it touches. Since salt is so crucial to all aspects of cooking, we take care in sourcing the best salt that we can.
Just like any other pantry ingredient, salt can be refined and unrefined. We use unrefined sea salts from France and Portugal, both sourced through Eden Organics.
Our French sea salt comes from the Isle of Noirmoutier. It has a sunny, tropical climate with gentle winds, making it an ideal location for fine sea salt. Because the isle is a national nature preserve and is environmentally protected, we know that the water used to make the salt is unadulterated. Their salt is made in the most traditional way, and it involves no processing, washing, or blending. This method ensures that the salt retains all of its trace minerals for robust flavor and plenty of nutritional benefits.
Our Portuguese salt comes from the salt marshes in the southern part of the country, and is also produced and harvested in an environmentally protected area. This part of the Atlantic Ocean near the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea has an ancient tradition of sea salt production, and we’re happy to continue in this tradition. Like our French salt, the Portuguese location is warm and sunny, with abundant winds to aid in salt evaporation.
There are many other wonderful unrefined salts out there. The only way to find the salts best for you is to get out and taste! See our tips below to learn more.
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR SALT
We’ve adapted these tips from Mark Bitterman’s fantastic book, Salted. Bitterman is the owner of The Meadow, a salt store in Portland, OR and New York City.
Use only natural, unrefined salts: Industrial salts have been stripped of all of their natural minerals and often inundated with additives to further whiten the salt and prevent clumping. Many salt additives contain aluminum, which we avoid in our kitchen. We purchase our sea salts through Eden Organics, but you can find many high-quality salts online through retailers like The Meadow, Saltworks, Salt Traders, and Kalustyans. Whole Foods and other reputable grocery stores can also carry high-quality salts. Be sure to look for unrefined salts in well sealed containers (preferably glass).
Salt to suit your taste: Most Americans eat too much salt, but that excess doesn’t come from the home kitchen — it comes from processed food. When you cook at home, taste as you go and add enough salt to make the food taste great to you! Salt levels are personal, and you’re unlikely to add so much salt that it is harmful if you salt to taste.
Salt towards the end of cooking: Yes, you do need to season most foods while they’re cooking, but salt has the greatest impact when sprinkled on right at the very end. Pick out an impactful finishing salt and use it with pride right before serving.
Use the right salt for the right purpose: Some salts, like ground traditional sea salts, make good all-purpose salts—they work just as well in baking recipes and soups as they do for finishing touches. Others, like flaky fleur de sel, should be used only to finish a dish. As a general rule of thumb, flaky and/or fragrant salts work best at the end of cooking or at the table, while fine, ground salts work well during cooking. In many of our products, we leave room for you to salt to taste. Dive deeper into the science of salt with us to learn how to pick and choose the best salts for you.
Artisanal Salt Production
Unlike the (relatively) new industrial salt making process, artisanal-style salt production has been going on since at least 6000 BCE. However, the basic methods remain similar. The majority of artisanal salts are evaporative, and they are produced much like a agricultural crops: beds are managed, salt is harvested when it is ready, and the resulting salt is minimally processed.
These salts are commonly made using a solar evaporation method in which salt water is directed to a series of shallow evaporative pools where it concentrates and eventually precipitates salt. Hot, dry locations can perform all of these steps in the open air, producing fleur de sel, sel gris, and/or traditional sea salts. The difference in salt names reflects not only the appearance of the salt, but also how it was harvested. Fleur de sel is carefully skimmed from the top of the salt pools. It appears sporadically and is highly seasonal, hence its high price tag. If the fleur de sel sits for too long on the top of a salt pool, it will become large and heavy and sink to the bottom of the pool. At this point, the salt is now called sel gris. It can be raked off the bottom of the pool every day or so. If sel gris is left at the bottom of the pool, it will continue to gain mass and weight, eventually turning to what is called “traditional” salt. Traditional salt is very coarse and heavy, and it needs to be ground into smaller pieces before use. It can be harvested after several days or even just once every few months. If you’re buying an unrefined sea salt without a fancy name attached to it, it is likely traditional sea salt.
Rainy and more temperate locations often use greenhouses to aid in evaporation and shield the salt pools from the rain. These salt farms will pump seawater into the greenhouse and throughout the salt pools. Some make use of water purification practices to rid the seawater of potential pathogens and undesirable pollutants. Because the environment is cooler, many of these farms also need to use heat to crystallize the salt. One such salt is called “shio.” It is the most delicate of all artisanal salts with a soft, downy texture.
Each of these different techniques reflect the salt farm’s geology, tradition, economics, and personal preference. The precise salinity of the seawater used also dictates many of the farm’s methods. Most artisanal salt producers maintain a high amount of trace minerals of their salt by manipulating the speed at which the salt crystallizes and is harvested from the salt pools.
Mined artisanal salts are less common than evaporated salts because they can be hard to locate and even harder to mine. Like the industrial version, mined salts are called rock salts—they are found in rock, after all—and they are found in halite deposits all over the world. Yet the methods of mining and scale of operation set the artisanal miners apart from industrial-minded companies. Artisanal rock salt is never refined or stripped of its minerals, and it is produced on a far smaller scale. Even some of the largest artisanal mines in the world produce less than 10% of the amount of salt that industrial mines produce in a year. Artisanal mines also rely on hand labor instead of coal and diesel-powered machinery, keeping their carbon imprint low.
Perhaps the most famous salt mine is the Khewra mine located in the foothills of a hill system in northern Pakistan called the Salt Range. It is the second largest salt mine in the world, and is now a major tourist destination. Salt from the Khewra mine is known as Himalayan salt, despite the fact that it is not technically from the Himalayan mountain range. (The mine is about 200 miles from the Himalayas.) Himalayan salt has been the subject of a great deal of press over the last decade and a half, as it is purported to be higher in trace minerals and lower in harmful contaminants than evaporated sea salt. Other researchers have claimed that Himalayan salt is far too high in harmful minerals like fluoride and bromide. However, because the salt mine is so vast, there are countless different varieties of Himalayan salt, each with their own mineral makeup. Some may be better than the average sea salt, and some may be worse—it depends on the salt. Companies like The Meadow can provide a mineral analysis of their Himalayan salts if there is concern.
Salt and Health
Salt has, of course, had its fair share of publicity issues. Many scientists belief that high salt intake (really, it’s the sodium in the salt) leads to an increase risk of heart disease. This is because increased levels of sodium in the blood will raise blood pressure. If sodium intake continues to be high, blood pressure continues to be elevated, and the risk of heart disease increases. But the problem is likely not in home salt shakers. Instead, most Americans eat massive amounts of sodium because they also eat massive amounts of processed and restaurant-prepared foods. These products and dishes often contain far, far more salt than the average person would add at home. In other words, the solution to chronically high blood pressure is not to stop seasoning food at home. Instead, it should be to cut out processed foods and to cut back on restaurant dining. (Remember: high end restaurants are often just as culpable as fast food.)
In addition, we’re not totally sure the exact influence of common table salt on our blood pressure. Researchers on the pro-salt side of the debate argue that total salt intake is less of an issue when it is eaten in balance with other minerals, like potassium, magnesium, and calcium. One of the best ways to do that is to focus on eating a healthy, real food diet full of bioavailable, nutrient-dense foods—that, and avoid things like salt-injected meats and canned soups.