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Food & Wine What’s the difference between table salt, Kosher salt and sea salt?

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I am sure you have had dishes that are too salty – or not salty enough – and you wonder about the taste buds of the cook. Here’s the thing. All salt is created equal. It is the size of the flakes that matters.

Regular table salt is ground very fine and has anti-caking ingredients to make sure it runs freely. Kosher salt, on the other hand, has larger crystals that dissolve easily, so 1 teaspoon of kosher salt has the same saltiness as ½ teaspoon of table salt. (By the way, all salt is kosher by Jewish law, but when a package says “kosher” on it, it’s referring to the larger flake size.)

I prefer not to use table salt. Kosher salt is superior – my strong preference for cooking is Diamond Crystal Kosher, which is readily available in the supermarket and it’s also best for brining.

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Salt is either mined from salt mines or from the sea. Most salt is from salt mines. Pink Himalayan salt is gorgeous, but it is no different from other mined salts. Its beautiful pink colour is due to some copper in the mines.

Sea salt is formed by allowing the water to evaporate in salt pans until large flake crystals remain. The less refined the salt, the higher the proportion of minerals. French fleur de sel, one of the most expensive salts in the world, falls into this category. Generally, sea salts have natural properties and their larger crystals give a crunchiness and flavour when used as a finishing salt. Finishing salt is sprinkled over a dish just before serving to add crunchiness and salinity. My favourite finishing salt is the English Maldon. Its lacy, pyramid-like crystals dissolve perfectly over a steak, vegetables and eggs.

Don’t use fancy salt to cook – you’ll get the same level of saltiness and flavour from a cheaper salt. Save the more expensive salts for finishing. Ground down sea salt works well, too.

Have a salt dish beside your stove and, using your fingers, scatter the salt over the dish. I also use salt dishes on the table. This is where the pink salt looks so impressive. Use small spoons at the table for sprinkling, but not silver; salt tarnishes silver.

And use caution when reading recipes. Recipes that don’t specify the type of salt can be a problem, due to the differences in flake size. Recipes that give the exact amount of salt can also be an issue. The size of your saucepan, narrow or wide, will make a difference; ingredients in wider saucepans will reduce more and could taste saltier.

Always start with less salt and taste as you go along so you can adjust the seasonings yourself. You must learn to trust your palate to do this, but a little practice does wonders.

Need some advice about kitchen life and entertaining? Send your questions to lwaverman@globeandmail.com.

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