The discovery of salt around is widely attributed to a Chinese entrepreneur named Yi Dun, thought to have been born in 480 BC. The story goes that he discovered salt by boiling brine from a salt pond in iron pans, which he nurtured into a small empire along with livestock and jewelry businesses.
Today, salt is the cornerstone mineral (it’s not actually a spice) used to add depth and intensify flavours in many of the foods we eat. Salt is not only crucial to flavouring dishes, it plays an essential role in cheesemaking by balancing flavours, textures, aromas and rheology of cheese as well as its cooking properties. It is also responsible for the magical properties of brining, breaking down meat fibre proteins for more tender, delicius meat dishes.
All salts; however, are not the same.
Table salt is the most common form of edible, refined salt containing 95% or even more pure concentrations of sodium chloride, which is often iodized (with a small amount of potassium iodide) as a dietary supplement.
Kosher Salt is non-iodized salt with coarse, large crystals considered the ideal size for teasing the moisture out of meat, a crucial part of the koshering process. Some chefs prefer kosher salt as its relatively large crystals make it easier to control the salt added to a dish and avoid over salting.
Sea Salt is produced through the evaporation of ocean or salt lake water. It contains roughly the same sodium content as table salt; however, it is typically not processed and can contain trace amounts of other beneficial minerals. Chefs often prefer sea salt to regular table salt for its more concentrated flavour and subtle flavour and colour variations based on its place of origin. Coarse sea salt is a large-grain dry, processed salt commonly used for making dishes featuring salt crusts, smokehouses and brining.
Pink Salt is mined from the rock slabs of Punjab at the foot of the Himalayas, pink salt is often considered a more ‘pure’ or natural salt. While it contains a similar amount of sodium chloride as regular table salt, its pink colour comes from the presence of trace minerals potassium, magnesium and calcium. Pink salt is generally used in much the same way as other table salts and is also often mined in blocks to create unique cutting boards, table lamps and servingware.
Fleur de sel is an unrefined, natural sea salt that is harvested by hand from the top layer of salt pans. Terroir and regionality have a distinctive impact on the gentle flavour of fleur de sel, which is sold is its unprocessed form, with moist, soft grains thought to ‘taste of the ocean’. Due to its delicate flavour and texture, fleur de sel, which translates ‘flower of salt’, is best used to season immediately before serving.
Kala Namak or ‘Black Salt’ is a South Asian kiln-fired salt mined in the Himalayas and prized for its highly unique aroma and umami flavour some say is similar to a boiled egg.
Hiwa Kai or ‘black lava salt’ is a Pacific ocean sea salt combined with activated charcoal from coconut shells made in Hawaii. It’s used for seasoning dishes as well as adding beauty and contrast as a finishing salt due to it’s velvety black colour and texture.
Fun fact: The Sifto Salt mine in Goderich, Ontario, is the largest salt mine in the world. Operating since 1867, the mine produces high-purity fine and coarse salt products largely for road salting and is located a staggering 1,800 feet (about the height of the CN Tower) beneath Lake Huron. The underground facility covers over seven square kilometres.