know your salt an extract from the salt book

There is something magical about salt. But it’s a magic that’s easy to overlook. Salt is so common, so familiar that we barely notice the remarkable properties it possesses. The one thing we do notice, however is its absence. In some cultures salt has come to symbolise friendship, loyalty and fidelity.

There is such an array of salts such as Himalayan pink salt, Murray River salt, Indian black salt and fleur de sel to name just a few. But do different types of salt taste the same? That is, don’t they just taste ‘salty’? Or do they each have subtleties?

It also comes in many forms, a fact that is profoundly important when it comes to cooking. To really get to know salt, you need to be familiar with it – how it tastes – how it feels – so that you are using the right salt for a specific type of food. But do different types of salt taste the same? That is, dont’ they just taste ‘salty’? Or do they each have subtleties?

In fact different types of salt have subtly different flavours. The result of a number of factors: the mineral content of the salt, its method of production, the size and shape of the crystals, and whether it has had any flavourings added to it. The only way to truly gauge the unique flavours of different salts is to taste each of them individually. Taste them in comparison with other salts, and to taste different salts in combination with a range of foods, to see which salt goes best with what.

According to the salt book there are three different ways to taste salt. Firstly, get yourself four very different types from a range of different salts such as; Sea Salt, Fleur de Sel, Table Salt, Pink Salt, Red, Black & Blue Salt. The easiest way to taste salt is of course to place some salt in the middle of your palm, pinch a little between your fingers and then taste it with the tip of your tongue to give you an idea of both the favour and the texture. You’ll need to cleanse your palate in between each taste with some unsalted plain water crackers and some water with a little lemon.

Or, you can try tasting by solution. Weigh the salt to make sure there are equal measurements or amounts of each salt. It must be done by weight, not volume because of the different grain sizes and shapes. Mix each kind of salt with enough hot waters to make a 2-3% solution. Let the solution cool and taste them individually. By tasting salt this way, it will give an idea of the pure salt taste rather than crystal size which governs the way the salt dissolves on the tongue.

The final method and one that is alot more fun is to prepare a range of different foods, divided into small portions to compare and contrast the different salts as they affect flavour. Try;

  • tomato
  • hard boiled egg
  • melon
  • cucumber
  • grapefruit
  • rare beef
  • chocolate

Place a different salt on each small piece of the same food item to see how the flavour profile is completely different. Don’t forget to cleanse your palate after each taste and write your notes down so you can go back to it. It’s a great way to see how different salt is and that some salts taste better on certain foods than others!

It’s probably a good idea to keep three to four basic salts, and get to know them thoroughly. That way you will always use them correctly. You should have a good quality, natural sea salt for general purpose use. You should have some fine sea salt or iodised table salt for baking. You should have a soft mineral salt for your meat dishes and to enhance earthy umami flavours. You should have a fleur de sel, or some other fine quality finishing salt, especially good for delicate fish dishes. And finally, a quantity of rock salt for baking meat or fish.

salty ice cream

Why does salt work particularly well in combination with overly sweet desserts? Because the salt helps cut through the sweetness and brings out the flavours. But you do need to be careful, as there is a fine line between salty and too salty: add the salt a little at a time, tasting as you go.

vanilla ice cream with murray river pink salt


  • 250ml cream
  • 250ml milk
  • 85g sugar
  • 1 1/2 vanilla pods
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon murray river pink salt

in a saucepan, heat the cream, milk, sugar and split the vanilla pods. Whisk together the egg yolks in a separate bowl. When the cream mixture is scorched but not boiling , pour half of the liquid over the eggs, stir to combine, then pour the mixture back into the saucepan.

cook over a medium heat, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon until the mixture coats the back of the spoon. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl set over ice and stir until cool. Transfer to an ice-cream maker and churn until firm peaks form. Add the Murray River pink salt a little at a time, checking for taste. Stir to incorporate , the freeze.

This recipe comes from New Zealand chef Jude Messenger, and works particularly well as an accompaniment to desserts like Sticky Date Pudding,Treacle Tart, or anything that might be excessively sweet if served by itself.

Courtesy of the salt book by Fritz Gubler and David Glynn, Arbon Publishing

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