Good Food Blog
Salt of the EarthPosted at 2:30PM, 18 January 2011 by Carol Wilson - Food writer
Look in any supermarket and you'll find a bewildering array of pricey salts from around the world in a variety of colours and textures. You may have thought that salt is, well, just salt, a basic commodity that none of us gives much thought to, as we use it in cooking and sprinkle it on our food.
Now however, top chefs and gourmets claim that the unique qualities of the many varieties of salt can enhance the flavours of foods. The difference in colour and flavour of salt depends on the type and amount of minerals and/or clays attached to the crystals of sodium chloride and the size and texture of the crystals.
Fleur de sel de Guérande, (reputed to be the world's finest and rarest sea salt) is hand harvested from the salt flats of Guérande. This mineral-rich salt is unrefined and the moist gleaming crystals have a slight iodine flavour with the tang of the sea. Some enthusiasts say they can also discern a faint scent of violets, imparted by the presence of microscopic algae growing in the salt marshes.
Smoked sea salts, which are smoked over aromatic wood fires and can range in colour from light grey to dark brown, have an assertive smoky aroma and flavour that's not to everyone's taste.
It's far cheaper to season salt yourself by adding your own flavouring
Flavoured sea salt is made by combining it with other ingredients, such as celery and garlic, which have been around for ages, but now you can buy salt flavoured with spices, coconut, herbs, seaweed and even vanilla and deep pink hibiscus. It's far cheaper to season salt yourself by adding your own flavouring. I add a couple of tablespoons of grated lemon and orange zest to a half a cup of sea salt and keep it for seasoning chicken and fish before and after cooking.
Then there's coloured salts, such as Black salt from Pakistan and India. This volcanic rock salt is actually pinkish grey and has a distinct sulphurous mineral taste. It's used in Indian cuisine as a condiment and in fresh chutneys and pickles. Another Indian salt, the pretty rose-coloured Himalayan crystal salt is rich in minerals, as is Hawaiian black lava salt, which is combined with activated charcoal. Red alaea sea salt also hails from Hawaii; the vibrant colour comes from the iron oxide in the red clay soil in the salt ponds.
Recently a friend gave me some Korean bamboo salt - sea salt roasted over a pine resin fire in bamboo cylinders sealed at both ends with yellow clay unique to the region. Apparently the salt absorbs minerals from the bamboo and clay, which leaches impurities from the salt. It's grey and powdery and has an intensely salty taste. I haven't seen it on sale here yet, but it can only be a matter of time.
Are these costly salts worth the money? Is there any difference in taste? I've come to the conclusion that expensive salts are best kept for sprinkling on food at the table, where their subtle, clean flavour, colour and crunch can be best appreciated. I didn't notice any difference in cooking with ordinary table salt, so don't waste high-priced salt by sprinkling it into a pan of potatoes! What do you think about speciality salts?