Making Sense of Salt

By Colleen Leonardi
Photography by Catherine Murray 

During the winter season when spices can add the right amount of warmth to a dish, we find playing with different types of salts just as rewarding and nourishing. So we asked Ben Walters of North Market Spices about the basics of salt and what his favorites are for winter dishes.

Q: What are some of the main sources for salt? Where is it produced and harvested? 

A: The two main sources of salt are the sea and rock salt, which resulted from seas drying up. Salt is produced all over the world by either mining it or by evaporation from the sea, or from brine from solution mining.

Q: What makes iodized (table salt) different from other salts? 

A: Basically salt is mixed with very small amounts of salts of iodine. This was done to prevent iodine deficiency, which has various consequences from thyroid problems to mental deficiencies. In short, iodine is, in small amounts, very important to our nutrition.

Q: Why is salt so important to our diet? 

A: It helps our bodies retain water, is a great source of minerals, stimulates muscle contraction and contains nutrients vital to the digestive system.

Q: What are some of your favorite salts to work with and why? 

A: Himalayan Pink is my favorite salt to work with, as it has the saltiest taste with lower amounts of sodium. It also naturally contains iodine, sulphate, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bicarbonate, bromide, borate, strontium and fluoride. Though it may be mined from the mountains, it was formed by a sea that was covered over and is widely considered to be the purest of sea salts.

I also enjoy working with our Sonoma sea salt, as it lends itself very well to being infused and is about as coarse as kosher salt.

Q: How many different kinds of salts do you carry at North Market Spices?

A: I basically have eight different salts at heart: Sonoma, coarse Mediterranean, Hawaiian alaea, black lava, kala namak, fleur de sel, Himalayan Pink and pink curing salt (table salt dyed pink to indicate that it has had nitrites added to it). We also carry more than 20 different infused Sonoma sea salts.

Q: What are some of their flavor profiles and what dishes do they best complement? 

A: Himalayan Pink is great for just about everything and can be used in smaller amounts, as it has a very salty flavor. Black lava and Hawaiian alaea are great as finishing salts, as they make flavors explode and add color.  Fleur de sel, I find, is perfect for roasting and for seafood, as it is very delicate and will usually have a residual moisture content of 5% to 8%.

Q: What is a must-have salt for any cook as we move into the winter season?

A: I would say no cook should be without Himalayan Pink or fleur de sel.

Photo caption: Salts from left to right: Hawaiian Alaea Sea Salt, Kala Namak salt, Black Sea Salt, Fleur de Sel, The Drake, Pink Himalayan salt and Aqua Caiaiedhemon