a guide to salt: the policeman of taste

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The region of Camargue is located where the Rhone River meets the Mediterranean Sea in southern France.

Sea salt has been harvested in this region since Ancient Roman times. When cooking, I like to use this brand of French sea salt.

People have often asked what the difference is between different types of salts.

Here’s my very brief guide on 3 types of salts: common table salt, fleur de sel, and gros sel. All three salts originate from salty water. Generally speaking, when the water evaporates, the salt is left behind.

common table salt: this is the salt that you typically find in restaurants in a salt shaker. The salt is fine and white. A common, typical brand used is, Morton Salt.

Table salt is processed to produce a very fine texture. This allows table salt to be mixed into recipes much easier. The result of processing table salt is that important minerals are removed.

The price point of table salt is very low. You can get 1 pound of table salt for less than a dollar.

fleur de sel: this is the crème de la crème of salt that is usually from the north-west region of France. When water evaporates from the salt ponds, in the Summer, a Saunier (salt harvester), carefully rakes off crystals that have formed on the top layer of the water. The crystals at the top layer of the water are delicate and can easily sink to the bottom when harsh wind, rain or dew forms. This is why fleur de sel is harvested at night and quickly.

The method of raking is done by hand and is labor intensive. The Saunier must be very careful not to disturb the layers of salt that have formed in the water.

Because fleur de sel is not processed, the minerals in the salt are retained. Fleur de sel typically has a higher mineral content than other salts. It varies in color from light gray to white. The crystals are delicate and crusty — resembling tiny crystals of ice.

Fleur de sel has a wet consistency with translucent crystals. It has a strong sea and metallic taste. Because of fleur de sel’s distinct taste, it is often used as a finishing salt: sprinkled over a dish, after it has been cooked or as a garnish on top of chocolate caramels.

One 4.4 ounces of Le Saunier De Camargue Fleur De Sel costs around $13.00.

Lastly, there is Gros sel.

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gros sel is the salt that is harvested just below the layer of fleur de sel. It can be harvested by hand or by machine (the french harvest it mostly by hand). It is more affordable than fleur de sel. The taste is milder and is also moister. Sea salt from Camargue is bright white. I use this salt for regular, every day cooking.

The biggest difference between the 3 salts is the sodium content. Since fleur de sel and gros sel typically have larger salt crystals than table salt, they contain less sodium by volume. A home cook who determines the amount of salt to use by a teaspoon/other measuring spoon can actually use more sodium when using table salt because there are more salt crystals that can fit on the spoon.

I like to store my gros sel in a white, stoneware salt cellar with a tiny stainless steel spoon to make dispensing the salt easier. I purchased my salt cellar from here.

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