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Special focus: Salt

Salt is probably the most widely used ingredient in the restaurant kitchen. In the past, plain table salt was the go-to seasoning for both the back- and front-of-the-house, but now chefs (and diners) are using crystals of different sizes, textures, colors and even flavors.

Table salt, also called granulated salt, is the most basic mineral composition of sodium and chloride. It can be mined from dried oceans and underground sea beds or harvested from evaporated brine/sea water. It is screened to provide a range of specific crystal sizes.

Kosher salt has a larger, coarser crystal size and mellow flavor, making it a popular back-of-house choice for roasting, pickling, brining, grilling and simply pinching between the fingers for seasoning. “Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt is created through a proprietary process in which tiny, hollow, pyramid-shaped crystals are harvested from hot brine in rotating large pans.” reports Judy Steinle, strategic account manager in foodservice for parent company, Cargill. “Broken apart, these crystals have a delicate, flaked appearance—and the unique shape delivers improved adherence, blendability and solubility.”

Sea salt is also collected from evaporated water. The Diamond Crystal brand of sea salt is domestically sourced from salt ponds on California’s Pacific shores, then formed through an evaporation process and screened into fine, medium and coarse crystal sizes.

The flavor of sea salt reflects the terroir of its source. For example, mineral impurities contribute both color and flavor to French fleur de sel from Brittany, which ranges from white to ebony, coral to gray.

Sea salt is best used as a finishing salt, sprinkled on cooked fish or meats, salads or as a garnish for desserts; it adds mellow flavor along with a satisfying crunch. Some companies now offer flavored sea salts as well. For example, Saltworks in Washington state smokes theirs, imparting a subtle hickory, applewood and even chardonnay oak flavor. Other sea salts are infused with citrus, herbs and other flavors.

“When evaluating kosher salt, start with appearance,” says Steve Karl, quality assurance manager for Cargill Salt. “Crystal size should be uniform and the color, pure white. Then note these four criteria:

  • Texture:  Crumble between the fingers and sprinkle on food; ideally, the salt should stick to the food and not bounce or roll off.
  • Flavor: The salt should taste clean and pure with no bitter or metallic notes.
  • Mouth Feel:  Is there a pleasing crunch?
  • Blendability:  Does the salt blend evenly with other ingredients/spices to round out a dish?”

Cargill’s corporate chef, Eugene Stoffel, suggests this taste test to discover that all salt is not created equal:  Thinly slice English cucumbers. Sprinkle some slices with kosher salt, some with table salt and some with sea salt. Taste all three, rinsing the mouth with water in between. The results will prove that each salt delivers different results in terms of flavor, texture and other attributes.

On the health front, Diamond Crystal kosher salt provides one additional bonus:  It provides 53% less sodium by volume than regular granulated salt—1120 mg sodium per teaspoon as opposed to 2360 mg.

Some sea salts may also flavor food with less sodium by volume, depending on the quantity of other minerals in the particular sea salt blend. Operators who are trying to reduce sodium on the menu can go a long way toward enhancing dishes by using different varieties and a little less salt of higher quality.

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