This post is the follow-up to Industrial Food, Home Cooking & Salt Policy.
Of the hundreds of unrefined salts produced around the world, the commonly available choices for everyday use are limited. Jurassic salt, Himalayan pink salt, and sel gris each have loyal followers in the whole-foods community and are available in most natural-foods stores. The range of flavors, colors, and textures among just these three salts hint at the vast variety of salt made throughout the world.
Perhaps the most common type of all-purpose cooking salt found in natural-foods stores is Jurassic salt, sold under the brand name Real Salt. Jurassic salt is translucent to opaque with veins of pink minerals throughout. It is mined from Southern Utah’s ancient salt beds. The deposits pre-date modern environmental contaminants and have been sealed within the earth under a protective layer of volcanic ash for millennia.
Because Jurassic salt is mined and industrially ground, it’s available in different crystal sizes. I prefer to purchase it finely ground, as it has a gritty, rocky quality that is emphasized with larger crystals. Mark Bitterman, in his James Beard Award winning book, Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes describes the taste of Jurassic salt as “balanced,” and “generally flat and heavy on the palate”. Jurassic salt is not made through traditional methods, nor is it sophisticated or gourmet, but it is whole and unrefined. It’s far superior in taste and nutrition to industrially produced salts like common table salt, sea salt, kosher salt.
Himalayan pink salt (like Jurassic salt) is mined. It’s deposited deep within the earth and protected from any modern contaminants. As the name suggests, the crystals are pink, although the color can vary from light peach to nearly ruby. When finely ground, a light pink color dominates and flecks of darker pink are distributed throughout. Himalayan pink salt has been traditionally harvested (cut by hand) from the mountains of Pakistan for over two-thousand years. It’s available finely ground, coarsely ground, in various sized rocks, and even in slabs to be used as cooking or serving surfaces.
Bitterman describes the taste of Himalayan pink salt as “spicy-hot pungency”. In simple dishes seasoned only with salt and pepper, Himalayan salt actually enhances the flavor of the pepper. As an all-around cooking salt it brightens flavors and lacks the flat, heavy, grittiness that describe Jurassic salt. Himalayan pink awakens the palate and enlivens all of the senses. I favor this esoteric salt when making curries and other dishes that center on spices.
The French culinary tradition relies heavily upon two types of traditionally produced salts. These salts, fleur de sel (literally salt flower in English) and sel gris (grey salt in English), are made traditionally, by hand, using ocean water and the sun. Fleur de sel is aptly named, as it is harvested from the top of the salt brine. It’s delicate crystals are nearly opaque and silvery white. Fleur de sel is reserved for finishing dishes. It’s beautiful crystals should be spared from dissolving in the soup pot.
Sel gris is more abundant than fleur de sel. The coarse crystals are translucent light-grey and naturally retain some moisture, telling of its origins in the sea. Sel gris is truly an ideal cooking salt. It tastes sweet and pleasant on the palate. With only 85% sodium chloride, much of the briny flavor is derived from other minerals abundant in the seawater. It has a mildness that is in marked contrast to both Jurassic and Himalayan pink salt.
Sel gris is commonly sold under the brand name Celtic Sea Salt. It is available in large natural crystals or finely ground. I prefer to purchase the large crystals. They can be ground in a mortar and pestle if needed or left whole to use a finishing salt on breads, salads, or meats. Finely ground sel gris, Jurassic salt, and Himalayan salt can be substituted directly for table salt, kosher salt, or sea salt in most everyday recipes. To use coarsely crystaled sel gris for preservation (canning, fermentation, etc.) use 20% more than the recipe calls for to ensure adequate sodium chloride in the finished product.
These unique salts look and taste vastly different from common industrial salt. Salts like Jurassic, Himalayan pink, and sel gris, are the salts of our ancestors. These irregular, colorful, aptly named crystals have nourished and delighted people for ages, made preserved foods possible, and supported traditional economies around the world.
In ancient and recent history the control of salt has been a political stronghold. This legacy continues today. Among scientists, doctors, and health professionals public health policies that focus on reducing salt intake are controversial. Remember that these modern-day battles concern industrially produced salt in industrially produced food. When we rely on real, whole foods, prepared at home, we can include real, whole, unrefined salt. We can partake in a global artisan food-making culture and we can support environmental responsibility – all through seasoning our food with the most satisfying, life-giving salts that the world has to offer.
 Mark Bitterman, Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes, (New York: Ten Speed, 2010), 164.
 Bitterman, Salted, 163.
 Bitterman, Salted, 165.