Pairing Herbs with Gourmet Cooking Salts

Interest in fancy-pants salts has been on the rise in recent years, but which salts are worth their salt?

| October/November 2010

  • Gray & Smoked Salt Caramels by Fran’s Chocolates, $24.
  • A refreshing cucumber salad can be even more outstanding when served in a salt bowl, like the one shown above.
    Theodor Collatos, courtesy HimalaSalt
  • Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt, which is where salary comes from.
    Photo by Howard Lee Puckett
  • The Meadow artisan food shop sells tableware- and cookware-grade salt plates. The cookware-grade plates are perfect for serving scallops, as shown here.
    Photo courtesy of The Meadow,

Chart:  Our Guide To The Best Gourmet Salts
Resources: Buy Your Artisan Salt From These Companies 

Wars have been fought and won over salt. Mahatma Gandhi famously launched his first nonviolent protest by taking a pinch of salt from the sea, breaking the law that made it illegal to acquire salt from any source other than the British government. During the American Civil War, the Union army strategically destroyed the salt mines of the South in an effort to cripple the Confederacy. And lately, government health agencies have declared war on the salt in our nation’s beloved processed foods.

Yet at the same time, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in consumer interest in expensive gourmet salts. Even with the economic problems of the last couple of years, HimalaSalt, the leading seller of the popular pink salt from the Himalayan mountains, expects to see a 130 percent growth in sales this year. The company’s founder, Melissa Kushi, attributes this phenomenon to that “part of America that is beginning to look at food the way Europeans, Japanese and other cultures have for hundreds if not thousands of years. Where food comes from and in what season, how it’s produced, how far it traveled, who grew it or made it, and all the gorgeous ways to prepare it—the deeper the education, the higher the quality of ingredients to be found in their cupboards,” she says. “Artisan salts are a natural extension of that education—they’re flavorful, sensual and transforming to any dish.”

She’s not alone: The upsurge in the popularity of healthy, sustainable, local and artisanal foods in recent years has resulted in a mind-boggling array of colorful, chunky salts at specialty food shops throughout the country. Keith Berner was a member of a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program in Vermont that supplemented farm-fresh produce with sea salt harvested in New England. “It tasted richer and had more depth than the other stuff, and it taught me how artisans can be involved in providing something as prosaic as salt, which I had never considered before,” Berner says.

But is the higher price tag worth it? And is there really something special about these salts of many colors?

The Four Basic Salt Types

There are four basic types of salt: table salt, mined salts, sea salts and kosher salt.

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