It was my first trip to Paris in 2014 that really opened my eyes to the world of salt. We had rented an utterly charming bohemian apartment in Montmartre, and I was positively inspired by the pretty ceramic salt cellar in the kitchen, filled with gorgeous, rustic sea salt probably from Brittany. (Leave around packaging in your charming bohemian kitchen? Mais non.) Every time I used the teeny tiny scoop to spoon out the salt for our meals, it just felt so fun and gourmet. So unlike my normal NYC self with $3 La Baleine salt, with packaging so tall that it doesn’t even fit properly in my cabinet!
Having said that, La Baleine is a totally respectable salt that I still rely on the most for flavoring my dishes. (It’s also from Brittany, though at a fraction of the cost of some of the others). But I’ve come to add some artisan salts to my cooking routine, which has made my simple, everyday meals taste so much more impressive.
Artisan salts, aka finishing salts, are harvested from various regions in the world using traditional methods and retain their unique nutrient profiles, colors, textures, and tastes that are entirely missing from table salt. One thing I also particularly like about artisan salts is that I’m increasingly conscious of our food consumption’s impact on the environment, animals, and other people around the world. As an abundant mineral that we only need a little bit of (by volume), salt is a far less resource-draining food item than almost anything else we eat. I appreciate the fact that with salt, a little goes a long way in satiating our appetite for delicious and intriguing things. (I only need a container of it per year or two!) Ya know what I mean?
Without further ado, here are some of the prettiest, tastiest, and most nutritionally beneficial salts you can buy.
This gorgeous salt is created when Icelandic sea salt is colored with activated charcoal from volcanic lava stones. Charcoal is said to be detoxifying, while the unexpected color makes it a perfect finishing salt for light colored dishes. It tastes intense and a bit sulphuric, which deliciously cuts through the creaminess of avocado. It’s perfection on avocado toast drizzled with olive oil and red pepper flakes or your favorite tofu scramble.
Also from the tundra of Iceland, this unique salt is mixed with Iceland Moss (Cetraria islandica) and Arctic Thymes. The floral note marries well with ratatouille, roasted veggies, rich stews, roasted potatoes, beets, desserts, and more. This is a relatively rare salt, though–so you could also try making your own herb salt with your favorite edible flowers and herbs. See mine below! I would totally sprinkle this all over vanilla coconut ice cream. Mmmmm!!
Salts from Hawaii are traditional sea salts infused with alaea clay. This imbues the salt with 80 different minerals and its gorgeous ruby red color. These red salts were used historically for ceremonial purposes such as blessing and purifying sea-going canoes, implements, and important household items. I love the unique crunchiness of this salt with its punchy saltiness. Red salts are slightly ferrous. I like to put mine on avocado toast, pasta, and Asian dishes like noodles and bowls.
Rock salt comes from oceans that dried up tens or hundreds of millions of years ago, leaving us their salt, which has been compressed and transformed while it slept in the earth’s crust, waiting to be quarried from the earth. Himalayan Pink salt is probably the best-known example, and it’s a great option for those concerned with microplastics in the oceans. Rich iron content makes for some of the prettiest salts ever! Himalayan pink salt contains all 84 essential trace minerals and is said to promote balanced blood sugar levels.
Unlike sea salts, Himalayan pink is hard and has very little moisture. It has a mineral-y taste with crunchy crystals that goes well with most foods–seriously, use it all over your grilled veggies, pizzas, salads, pastas, and more. But one of the best uses might be buying a slab, and using it as a serving board or even a grill tray. How about buying or making these vegan cheeses for your next cheese-and-wine night?
5. Fleur de Sel
Fleur de sel is a type of sea salt obtained by hand harvesting the “young” crystals that form on the surface of salt evaporation ponds. From the solar evaporated sea water, the “flower of salt” rises to the top of the salt pan, which is then hand-harvested. The harvesting of fleur de sel always takes place in the summer months when the sun is strongest. Most fleurs de sel claim to have higher mineral contents than table salts and often smell deliciously like the ocean. Use it to sprinkle on top of your desserts, cookies, chocolates, popcorn, and fries.
6. Sel Gris
Also known as gray salt, this salt has a hefty, moist crystals with a mineral saltiness and lots of moisture. These crystals are made by raking crystals from the bottom of a crystallizing pan soon after they form, which gives them an irregular yet natural crystal structure. Colored by gray from the clay of its harvest sites, most famous of which is in the coast of France. And in terms of looks, it’s not like *the* prettiest salt ever, so it is useful for cooking (as opposed to finishing). Try using it to lend a deep, oceanic, and moist flavor to hearty dishes, stews, soups, and kimchi.
7. Saffron Salt
Saffron has long been considered one of the costliest and rarest ingredients in the world. With its beautiful yellow color and unique savory flavor, this infused salt goes well with Mediterranean dishes and desserts with a savory element like tahini cookies, almond biscotti, etc.
8. Korean Purple Bamboo Salt
Korean bamboo salt is created when pure sea salt is stuffed inside a piece of bamboo, capped with red clay, then baked at extremely high temperature 9 times. The bamboo and the clay are said to imbue it with minerals and medicinal properties, and this salt has been used as an ancient folk remedy dating back about one thousand years. There seems to be scientific support to this, as studies have shown bamboo salt has anti-cancer properties (at triple the rate of regular sea salt). Its 70 essential micronutrients and minerals make it alkaline, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory. Try using this smoky and purple-brown salt in Asian dishes like noodles, bibimbap, sushi, and tofu.
Have you tried any of these gorgeous salts?
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Photo: (Featured image) The Meadow via Instagram; (Himalayan image) The Meadow; (Fleur de Sel image) Silk Road Spices;(Sel gris image) Gewurzhaus; (saffron salt image) Dr. Rhau Shirazi via Instagram; (bamboo salt image) Esther Hui via Instagram; rest are Peaceful Dumpling