When it comes to salt, many of us probably picture a rather quotidian (and uninteresting) cooking ingredient. Yet sodium chloride, the essential nutrient that mostly makes up salt as we know it, happens to come in a vast variety of colors, flavors, and textures from all over the globe! We could easily dream up an itinerary for traveling the world with the sole purpose of sampling different gourmet salts in each country.
People have mined salt for thousands of years (all the way back to at least the Iron Age), proving how essential this natural element is to our diets. Sea salts contain high levels of minerals and have a relatively long shelf-life of about two years—although once you start trying out different colors and varieties, none of them are likely to last that long in your pantry!
To help you get started testing out new salts in your culinary endeavors, here we list our Top 3 Gourmet Salts. Try these and others as “finishing salts” (sprinkled over foods just before serving) to complement your cooking and open up new possibilities for the flavors you can create!
1) Himalayan Pink Salt: Found in the mountainous regions of Central Asia, its pinkish color is due to its containing iron oxide. A type of rock salt said to have mystical healing properties such as lowering blood pressure and ridding the body of toxins, it can be purchased as coarse crystals for grinding but also as blocks. Mineral-rich pink salt blocks can be used on the grill or in the oven to impart a delicious flavor during cooking, and also as aesthetically-pleasing serving trays for cold items like hors d’oeuvres or sushi. (For a great way to enjoy Himalayan pink salt, try the award winning San Nicasio potato chips we recently featured!)
2) Smoked Coarse Salt: The perfect ingredient for grilling season! These sea salt flakes are cold-smoked over wood fires and range in color from dark brown to light grey. Sprinkling smoked salt over grilled meats and vegetables adds a subtly smoky flavor and aroma, offering a very pleasing depth and complexity. The flakes are also a great addition to chowders as a vegetarian alternative to the bacon in most chowder recipes!
3) Fleur de Sel: Meaning “flower of salt,” this salt has a slightly grey color and a delicate flavor. The traditional varieties come from the coast of Brittany and the isle of Noirmoutier in France, where it has been harvested since the 7th century. Coarse fleur de sel crystals do not dissolve when sprinkled over food that’s just been cooked, and so they lend a hint of crunch and sparkle to each dish. While fleur de sel is often used in savory dishes, it’s a great (and unexpected) accompaniment to baked goods and candy, too! Try sprinkling the crystals over freshly-baked brownies and caramels for the perfect flavor enhancement. With just the right amount, the salt will complement the sweet taste, intensifying both flavors, and you’ll have a wonderfully zen dessert experience!
Have you tried any of these (or other) gourmet salts? Tell us about your favorites in the comments!