Kosher Salt: Why It’s the Best Salt for (Most) Cooking

From left to right: Murray River sea salt (Australia), kosher salt, and île de ré sea salt (France). Source: Micki Seibel, February 2013

From left to right: Murray River sea salt (Australia), kosher salt, and île de ré sea salt (France).
Source: Micki Seibel, February 2013

What Is Kosher Salt?

Many recipes–especially those originating from professional chefs–call for the use of kosher salt. Time and again I’ve watched amateur home cooks use regular table salt without knowing there is a difference. And what a difference the right salt makes.Kosher salt is a coarse grained salt that contains no additives. It’s not kosher, per se, but takes its name from the curing process used to make kosher meats. Kosher salt is nutritionally no different from table salt–they’re both sodium chloride (NaCl) and both are mined from either seawater or inland deposits from ancient oceans. However, there are several key differences:

  1. Kosher salt has a larger grain size than table salt.
  2. The irregular, larger grains don’t fully dissolve in liquid.
  3. Most table salt contains additives.

These first two differences are extremely important to cooking.

Kosher Salt Has a Larger Grain Size Than Table Salt

Your tongue can only detect 4 flavors: bitter, sour, sweet, and salt. The remaining nuances of taste comes from your sense of smell. The larger grain sizes in kosher salt provide a larger surface area for taste buds. Also, since the grains don’t fully dissolve in liquid, there is still salt grains left in solution to tickle your taste buds. Hence, kosher salt taste different, more flavorful, more complex. For cooking, this is better.

The Larger Irregular Grains Don’t Fully Dissolve in Liquid (That’s Good)

The larger grain sizes that don’t fully dissolve in liquid also make kosher salt better for curing meats. This is why this type of salt is used when making meat kosher for Jewish dietary laws. which forbid eating blood. Typical table salt would dissolve before it’s finished the job, so coarser salt is used. Hence, koshering salt, or simply, kosher salt as it’s now known.As stated in the previous section, because the larger grain size means it doesn’t fully dissolve in liquid, there are still salt grains left to tickle the taste buds creating more perceived flavor and complexity.

No Additives in Kosher Salt

Kosher salt contains no additives. On the other hand, there are several common additives found in table salt. Some additives are there as anti-caking agents, like sodium ferrocyanide, to make it easier for the grains to move through salt shakers. Some additives were put into salt to combat health problems. Iodine, for example, was added in 1924 by the Morton Salt Company to combat goiter. Hence, the term iodized salt. Other common additives can include fluoride, folic acid, and iron, among others.Although these additives have not been demonstrated to cause health problems (on the contrary some were added to combat certain health issues), most people in the first world don’t need the supplements. Additives are more important in developing countries. Given that, I personally prefer to know exactly what goes into my food and prefer salt with no additives.

Kosher Salt Versus Sea Salt and Fluer de Sel

Sea Salt and Fluer de Sel (a particular type of sea salt) are the salt grains left over after evaporating sea water. It undergoes little or no processing. This makes sea salts less dense than table salt. Some sea salts, in fact, qualify as kosher salts. Despite the claims on the labels, sea salt is not healthier. Sea salt, table salt, and kosher salt all contain the same amount of sodium: about 60 percent, by weight. The difference is that the naturally occurring minerals are left in sea salt, and it is these that determine its color. These minerales are processed out of table salt and additives put in. Some sea salts are great for use in cooking for when kosher salt is otherwise called. You just need to make sure the grains are fine enough to properly dissolve like a kosher salt. With sea salts whose grains are quite large (like fleur de sel), they make for a better finishing salt when you want a few salty grains to cap your dish.

In the leading photo for this post, Murray River sea salt is the red salt on the left, kosher salt from Diamond Crystal is in the middle, and fluer de sel is the gray salt on the right. You can see that the two sea salts have larger grain sizes.

Conclusion: Use Kosher Salt In Cooking

When salt is called for in a recipe, use kosher salt. The coarse grains create more flavor and complexity in your dishes and several taste tests performed by the Food Network, Cooks Illustrated, and Slate Magazine prove that out. This is why kosher salt is a staple in the kitchens of professionally trained chefs.