From M., 29 April 2012, procuring special salts?
Q: I have a friend that likes salt. I wanted to get him a small selection for his birthday of some really cool, good, rare, whatever you thought would be interesting salts. Do you have some recommendations as to what, how to procure?
A: Thanks for your question. I am a salt fanatic, so it’s great to get to answer a question like this.
We’re pretty used to thinking of salt as providing no specific flavor, but just the basic taste of “saltiness.” What does that mean, “saltiness”? Well, in a scientific sense, saltiness is the detection of sodium ions – table salt being sodium chloride. But in a culinary sense, saltiness has several attributes. One is the taste of sodium chloride itself, which is so basic to human experience that it is almost to describe except by reference to itself. Another is the heightened sense of flavor of the salted product. Unseasoned proteins and starch often taste bland – that is, lacking much of a flavor – until the addition of salt. Yet another is the physical properties of salt, which can alter food texture significantly through osmosis and the weakening of cells, extracting their moisture (when applied in its dried form), or increasing their moisture (when applied as a solution, or brine). And finally, there’s the taste of other substances present in salt. Most of us grew up on iodized salt – which, just as it suggests, is sodium chloride to which a small amount of potassium iodide has been added. Iodine has its own taste – a somewhat metallic, oceanic taste – which is why many chefs do not season food with iodized salt. Many less-refined salts, like sel gris, fleur de sel, Australian river salts, and the like – also taste of the specific substances found along with the salt. Some, like the infamous and sulfurous kala namak from central India, can even be noxious, depending how much you use.
Anyway, for all these reasons, salt is a great gift for anyone who loves to eat. I have many salts at home, some that get much more use than others. Here’s a short list of favorites – both flavored and natural – and a few more esoteric salts that might interest you:
Flor de sal, The Spice House – a really clean salt, from southern coastal Portugal. It’s bright white and provides an aesthetically beautiful, crunchy finish
Smoked sea salt, Halen Môn – in my opinion, the finest smoked salt, using Welsh oak and Halen Môn Welsh flake salt; lacks the acrid bitterness of some smoked salts
Celery salt, Halen Môn – another great Halen Môn product, for when you want to boost the celery taste in a celery/celeriac dish, or complement something like tomatoes, bloody marys, or deviled eggs
http://www.thespicehouse.com/spices/Vulcans-Fire-Salt#content, The Spice House – with habanero and citrus, as well as some Latin spices, a great combination of heat, acidity, and salt
Maldon, The Meadow – the gold standard of salt from the Blackwater river estuary, with a characteristic shape and a clean, salty bite
Djibouti Pearl, The Meadow – a naturally pearl-shaped salt from Djibouti
Murray River, The Meadow – a pink salt, with some notes of algae, that is not as salty as other finishing salts
Yuzu shio, various suppliers – a combination of yuzu zest and fine salt, which carries the complex lemony/mandarin/pine flavor of yuzu.
Taha’a vanilla salt, Halen Môn – not a sweet salt, but a way to use the complexity of vanilla in both savory and sweet dishes (such as shellfish, or with bitter chocolate)