For many people, salt is just the thing on your table that you add to your dinner to cover the other flavors. There’s one kind, table salt that comes in a shaker. However, you may have noticed at the grocery store or a cooking show that there are many different types of salts. Are these just fancy versions of the same stuff you have on your table? After all, all salt just tastes like salt, right?

Actually, there are some major differences between the different types of salt. The type of salt you use can be affected by how it’s made, its properties, and even its flavor. We’re zeroing in on the three most common types of salt but remember that there are others.

Iodized Table Salt

Of all the salts you’ll find out there, iodized table salt is the most likely stuff you’ll use. This is the type that usually comes in the shaker you have on the table. It’s finely ground and has added components like anti-caking agents and iodide. Iodized salt became the norm during the 1920s to combat iodide deficiency. It should be noted that iodized salt largely does not influence your iodide intake. As long as you’re eating a healthy diet, you should be getting enough iodide.

How It’s Made

Table salt is generally mined from salt deposits by washing the deposit with water and creating a brine. This brine is then evaporated, creating crystals, which are then processed. During the processing, the salt is purified, removing any contaminants and minerals, before adding the anti-caking agents and iodide, though not all table salt is iodized.

When to Use It

Table salt is one of the most flexible salts out there. You can use it for last-minute seasoning, cooking, and even baking. That’s primarily why it’s got such a prominent place on our tables. The finely ground grains of salt means it dissolves easily into liquids and mixes fine with other spices. That said, the anti-caking agents can give table salt a bit of a metallic taste, and the processing makes it taste less salty. What this means for you is that table salt is good in a pinch, but there are definitely better salts out there to use in cooking. And if you season your food well enough, you may not even need table salt once you serve dinner!

Sea Salt

On the other side of the table is sea salt, a broad spectrum of salts that are harvested from the sea. Generally, it’s unrefined and coarse, adding a specific texture to dishes. It also retains some of the minerals from where it was harvested, which leads to a slightly different flavor and coloration.

How It’s Made

Generally, sea salt is made by collecting salt crystals that were left behind as sea water evaporates. From there, it isn’t milled or refined like table salt, which gives it the distinct rough shape and larger crystals. The lack of further processing allows sea salt to keep the minerals that also help set it apart.

When to Use It

Sea salt’s coarse nature makes it too rough to use in more delicate circumstances, like baking. Also, the rough processing of the individual crystals make it somewhat inconsistent for seasoning. Some grains are larger than others, so it may make certain areas saltier than others. That said, sea salt is great for salting water and for finishing a dish at the dinner table. We’ve also suggested that sea salt could even be a good alternative to table salt, since the larger granules and minerals give it a more robust flavor over table salt, meaning you may find you needing less for seasoning.

Kosher Salt

Contrary to what you may think, kosher salt isn’t specifically kosher (a process that removes blood from meat, according to Jewish tradition), but is the best kind of salt to make meat kosher. Since kosher salt is larger than table processed table salt, you’ll use less, making over-salting less likely.

How It’s Made

Kosher salt is essentially made in two ways. Either kosher salt is made like sea salt (collecting evaporated sea water crystals) or like table salt (harvesting from salt mines). Chemically, there are no huge differences between any of these three types of salt, except for the add-ins like iodide or leftover minerals.

When to Use It

Unlike table salt, kosher salt is formed as flakes, not crystals. This which gives them a larger surface area, making it great for spreading evenly over food, dissolving in water, or even using in some baking. Similar to table salt, it’s excellent in almost any cooking situation. Since kosher salt is clean and isn’t iodized or processed, it tends to taste better than table salt. In fact, many chefs and food professionals prefer kosher salt over both table salt and sea salt due to it’s consistency and flexibility.

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Salt is one of the most common ingredients in any recipe, and like any ingredient, can be used in a variety of different ways. We haven’t even mentioned rock salts, like Himalayan salt. Luckily, most salts remain versatile, meaning no matter which you have at home, you should be okay. That said, by paying attention to the type of salt you’re using and tailoring what you’re doing to match the salt, you can really take your cooking to the next level and wow your friends and family!