Wednesday, January 9, 2008

On Salt

Over the years I have met novice and experienced cooks who question why so many chefs prefer Kosher salt to table salt. I have also met chefs who think that Kosher salt is always preferable to table salt. This latter opinion (okay, I know it's a straw dog) is not entirely rational.

Since this is a potentially huge topic and I still haven't gotten my laps in at the pool, I'll be brief.

Kosher salt is pure sodium chloride. All the brands are the same chemically, but vary in the size and porosity of the individual grains or flakes.

Table salt is either pure sodium chloride or sodium chloride with salts of iodine. Most table salt also has one or another type of anti-caking agents added to it so that they do not clump up when they are exposed to moisture. Grain size and porosity do not vary much between brands.

It is almost always preferable to use pure salt in cooking . The anticaking agents in some table salts can cloud preparations that are supposed to be clear and iodine tastes nasty. But it is not always preferable to use Kosher salt in cooking. Here's when and why.

In brines, soups, stocks, any watery preparation really

Kosher salt is almost always more expensive than pure table salt. Since they are both chemically the same what's the point of using Kosher salt to make brine or adding Kosher salt to water for pasta when you can use pure table salt (Usually evaporated sea salt that is fine-grained salt without iodine or anti-caking agents.), achieve the exact same effect for less than half the price?

In dough, batter, meringues

Kosher salt grains are larger and harder to disperse quickly and evenly than equivalent weights of smaller more numerous grains of pure table salt. Use pure table salt when you bake, and leave the Kosher salt for other applications.

So when should you use Kosher salt?

For a la minute seasoning -especially if you season with your hands.

The larger grain size of Kosher salt helps to minimize the possibility that you will "pinch" too much and over season.

For salad

Once again the larger grain size is the reason here. Larger grains of salt take longer to dissolve so you have more time to mix the salt in evenly during tossing. Use table salt for salad and you often end up with "pockets" of concentrated salt. Yech!

For curing and dry rubbing

Again, the larger grain size is the principle reason why we use Kosher salt for cures. Because the larger grains take longer to dissolve, they spend more time on the surface before the salt ions enter the meat. The result is that the surface cells loose more water than they otherwise would.

This enhanced water loss is good for a few reasons. If you are dry rubbing with the intention of cooking the food, the slightly dryer exterior will brown better and faster. If you are cuing for smoking, you get an enhanced tightening of the surfce cells (called a pellicle) which is sina qua non for smoked foods.

There's more to all of this, of course, but I gotta go. But look. Stop dumping Kosher salt into water. You are wasting your money! Just be sure to remember that if you are used to using Kosher salt and measuring salt it by volume, you are going to have to use less table salt.


More about salt

I was just getting set up to do a clarity test of Kosher and non-iodized table salt and was mortified to see that my Morton Kosher salt contains an anti-caking agent (Yellow Prussiate of soda). So my Kosher salt is not kosher. Oy Vey!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The larger point here of course is that there may even be less reason to use Kosher salt for recipes that require smaller crystals or where crystal size makes no difference whatsoever (e.g. brine).

Update Again !!!!

I dissolved 20 g each of Morton Kosher Salt and Wegman's table salt without iodine in equivalent volumes of water (6 fluid oz). The Kosher salt which contained the anti-caking agent Yellow Prussiate of soda (Sodium Ferrocyanide) produced a crystal clear solution while the Wegman's table salt which contained the anti-caking agent Calcium Silicate.

Preliminary Conclusion

Wegman's noniodized table salt should not be used for watery preparations that would benefit from being very transparent.


Scotty said...

I couldn't agree more. I buy table salt in bulk for brines, etc. (one of my bugbears with Ruhlman), and save the Kosher Salt (and even more expensive Sea Salt), for where it makes a difference.

Having said that, not all Kosher Salts are created equal. Diamond Crystal lists as its ingredients "salt". Period. Morton has sodium ferrocyanide as an anti-caking agent. I like the crystal size of Morton, but if I have a choice, I pick Diamond Crystal.

Oh, and Bob is correct - if you have the chance, measure salt - any salt - by weight, not volume! And insist recipe writers do the same!

PS - Bob, unless you keep Kosher, this is not a straw dog. In fact it seems a scam to advise people to select a more expensive alternative where you can get an equal result with a less expensive one!

Egaeus said...

I do believe that you're the first chef that I have EVER heard expound on the subject of salt that made sense. Of course, the rest were all on TV, so take that with a grain of salt... Even Alton Brown (not a chef), with his "food science" approach on his show, still salts water, nut butter, and just about everything else with kosher salt, and makes a point of telling the audience that it's Kosher.

I've decided that he's either a doofus, or he has been paid off by the quasi-dimensional-reptilian-Jewish-overlord-Kosher-food-conspiracy junta, though that's probably unlikely judging by his recent determination of the location of Jesus, which may also bolster the case for doofus, depending on one's point of view.

Scotty said...

Egaeus, as the personal representative of the quasi-dimensional-reptilian-Jewish-overlord-Kosher-food-conspiracy junta, prepare to hear from our attorneys. And expect to be visited by lice, frogs, pestilence, boils, locusts, very small rocks, churches, cats and dogs living together, etc!

Egaeus said...

I'd ask that you keep away the churches, the very small rocks, and anything else that floats in water.

Scotty said...

egaeus, now I know you to be a witch!

Bob del Grosso said...


Kosher food junta huh. I don't recall seeing anything the Protocols about that...

Seriously, who knows why people get on these pedantic jags. I suppose its easier to say "Use Kosher Salt" instead of use pure salt always but coarse salt for this and finer salt for that.

Perhaps there is the perception at FN that if any of their talent talks too much detail the audience will be bored. I'm pretty sure that's what did in Batali and David Rosengarden in.

I'm sure Alton Brown is a swell guy and I do not mean to disparage him. But he's hasn't survived at the FN because he's really smart and knows a lot about food science (I assume he does). His survival is a function of his ability to look goofy and smart, serious and detached all at the same time.

Sort of like that Scotty guy there...

Scotty said...

Bob, that's the nicest thing anyone has said in a long time . . .

Egaeus said...

We could go on and on about the dumbing-down of Food Network...err...I mean, the realignment of their synergies to create a more user-friendly experience. My problem with it is that Good Eats was a show that was about information. It told you about why food does what it does. It was a watered-down McGee on TV, and indeed some of the info I've been reading in McGee has appeared on Good Eats almost verbatim. Now it's becoming more and more of a recipe show featuring some ingredient. He even said in an interview I read that it wasn't about the food, it was about the television. Sad.

But back to salt. He's usually right about most things, but he has this weird obsession with Kosher salt that I find disturbing. I still haven't figured out the Kosher salt in the cashew butter. Seeing as salt isn't fat-soluble, you just get bland butter with salty spots due to poor distribution. But anyway...I'll quit rambling since I don't have a real point. :)

Jennie/Tikka said...

Oh, I just can't do it...switch to table again. I picture the culinary police invading my house and removing my Global knives, saying, "You are hereby sentenced to watch the FN for the rest of your unnatural days, you heretic!"

I will say this though....the bigger grains of Kosher & sea salt are a lot faster to grab and throw than the teeny tiny no-traction table salt grains are. Trying to work with table salt is like trying to pick a contact lense off a wet counter.

tyronebcookin said...

and all these years I was afraid other 'associates' were going to catch me buying that 'green cannister' non iodized salt when my fellow workmates weren't looking...

And now, finally, a credible source making me look like the smart guy I thought I was, and as long as my fingers or hands were dry (or use a plastic spoon we keep laying in the open container) I have found no problem with traction on the small grains...and I got big paws.

maya said...

Like Jennie, I love sea salt. I also love the chemistry aspect of cooking. Would love to hear more.

boberica said...

Wegmans! I haven't heard that name since Rochester...getting home sick.

Egaeus said...

Bob, you inspired me to do my own test.

Morton Kosher:
Ingredients: salt, yellow prussiate of soda

Results: crystal clear solution.

Ingredients: Salt, Calcium Silicate

Results: White, cloudy solution.

Ingredients: Salt, sodium silicoaluminate, dextrose, potassium iodide, sodium bicarbonate.

Results: Yellowish, cloudy solution.

Bob del Grosso said...


Ralph's sounds like it produces ralph!

Seriously, I'm glad you did that. I think that we are on to something here in that we have evidence that the anti-caking agent is critical. I'd love to test many varieties of salt and see how they perform in this test.

CarolinaGirl said...

I thoroughly agree with you Bob. Unless it is a texture issue like Haricot Verts you are simply wasting money. I'd never ever use Kosher salt to boil my peanuts!

Egaeus said...

I let the salt sit overnight. It turns out the the anti-caking agents that cause cloudiness do so because they don't dissolve. They settled into the bottom of the glass, and now the solution is all but clear in all 3 glasses. Of course, this doesn't help the cook since you're not going to let it sit, but now we know the reason for it.

Ed Bruske said...

Bob, something dropped off one of the last sentences in that post.

I prefer to use Kosher salt in most of my cooking for the simple reason that it's so much easier to get out of the salt cellar I keep at the stove and doesn't stick to my fingers the way fine talbe salt does. Again, because of the large size of the crystals. I find it a bit tedious to switch back and forth from one salt to the other while cooking. We use the table salt specifically when we want to inject some iodine into our diet.