Wondering about that pink-colored salt that’s all the rage in different culinary circles? Mined from different parts of South Asia, Himalayan sea salt is a growing trend in cooking circles. Some chefs even swear by its use in food preparation.
As you read through this article, there are sure to be a number of questions in your mind, foremost of which is: “What’s the difference? Isn’t salt just salt?”
Contrary to this conventional thinking, different types of salts apparently do have different effects on how our food tastes — and the different varieties available do actually serve different purposes. Ordinary table salt, for instance, can’t be used for curing meats or pickling vegetables. Himalayan sea salt — which I hope to discuss with a little more depth in this article — likewise has a number of attributes that make it unique.
Your usual table salt, a.k.a. sea salt, typically undergoes a conventional process of solar or mechanical evaporation to produce a highly purified table salt crystal that has few impurities—hence its white color compared to the Himalayan salt hues. Himalayan sea salt is mined in caves by hand and stone ground; it is formed from fossilized sea bed deposits and is minimally processed, allowing the salt to retain its trademark brilliant pink color. (Note, however,that this salt can sometimes be reddish or even white, because its hue is dependent on the amount of iron oxide and other trace minerals in the salt.)
A World of Salts
There are countless cultures around the world, and just as many different types of salt. Let’s have a quick look at some varieties of salt used the world over, and the differences among them.
Alaea salt, also known as Hawaiian salt, is pink and brownish-colored unrefined sea salt combined with volcanic red clay. Besides the cultural and ceremonial uses of the salt by the locals, Alaea salt is also used to make traditional Hawaiian dishes such as poke and kalua. One neat tidbit about this particular salt is that since true Alaea salt is expensive and hard to find, most of the Alaea salt being produced is mainly from California.
Iodized salt, on the other hand, is basically your garden variety table salt mixed with minute amounts of iodine. The salt helps address the problem of iodine deficiency, which is the leading cause of thyroid gland problems and the like.
Kosher salt is made through evaporative processes and manufactured as flat-shaped salt grains. The salt’s structure makes it easier to extract surface blood from the meat being prepared; it absorbs the meat’s fluids and is washed away and discarded after it has done its job.
Mainly used for canning and pickling, pickling salt is like table salt without the iodine or anti-caking agents which affect the preservation process. Compared with the other salts, pickling salt is fine-grained, making it easier to dissolve in water to create brine. Since it has a specialized purpose, it’s much more concentrated in sodium chloride than other salts.
Also harvested in South Asia near the Himalayan mountain range, kala namak, which translates to ‘black salt’, is a pungent cousin to Himalayan sea salt., It has an eggy-smell to it due to the presence of hydrogen and sodium sulfate. From its raw form as halite, it undergoes a chemical process along with some harad seeds, amla, bahera, babul bark, or natron, to become what one can find in markets today. It’s commonly used as a vegan substitute for egg dishes.
Fleur de Sel
Literally translated from French, ‘flower of salt’ is commonly used these days as a finishing salt, although in ancient Roman times, it was regarded and used as a salve. It is formed through evaporation in sea water basins and, at the right time, ‘blooms’ into flower-like salt crystals.
Why Himalayan Sea Salt?
While there are many other varieties of salt, one may wonder what Himalayan sea salt can do for you and your cooking in the first place. We’re going to separate this type of salt from the rest by discussing what it tastes like, why you should use it, and some creative ideas on how to use it.
When used for seasoning, Himalayan salt has subtler saltiness to it and, at the same time, has a distinct mineral tang to one’s palate that sets it apart from the rest.
As a finishing salt, it not only adds flavor but also brings culinary complexity to your dishes, particularly in salads, steaks, or even in your baked goods.
How so? The sprinkled grains of salt burst in your mouth with each bite, balancing the excess sweetness or bitterness of each dish or dessert, and adding an extra crunch. And when it comes to plating your food, using the vibrant pink Himalayan sea salt grains can make your food stand out and look more visually appetizing.
Another great thing about using Himalayan sea salt is that, since it’s mined rather than processed, it’s not laced with additives that can affect taste.
One really great thing about this type of salt is that it leaves some room for a bit of creativity that one wouldn’t even think about with other salts. If you’re an adventurous person, you can try getting an 8x8x2 inch Himalayan sea salt block or slab to use for grilling steaks, seafood, or vegetables. These act like those stone bowls Korean restaurants use to keep their food warm for longer periods of time, which makes it perfect as a flat grill.
How to do it? You gradually heat the salt block over a stove flame and then cook your meats and vegetables without adding oil. Because of its rock-like surface, your ingredients don’t stick as easily as they might when using a stainless steel pan or steel barbeque racks. Another benefit is that it saves you time and trouble — there’s no need for seasoning because the block itself infuses the flavor into what you’re cooking on it.
Some people even do the reverse — i.e., freeze the salt block for around two to three hours, place some fruit, ice cream, or custard on top of it, and serve, using the slab as a chilled tray.
Himalayan sea salt is undoubtedly the next big thing in cooking, not only because of its aesthetic appeal and natural flavors, but also because of the creative culinary possibilities that its use has opened up to us.