Salt is salt. At least that’s what I always thought. I grab the cheapest, biggest container of it at the grocery store and use it for everything I make until it’s gone. So I was surprised to learn that, apparently, salts can taste different. So much so, that professional chefs often have a preferred salt that they use because they like the “saltiness” of it better than other types of salt. So it’s time to learn about kosher salt vs sea salt and what makes them different.
What is kosher salt?
Kosher salt is a coarse salt that has much larger grains than traditional table salt. The kosher label does not mean that the salt is kosher, but instead refers to the process of making meat kosher, called kashering. One of the kosher dietary guidelines forbids eating meat with blood in it. To ensure this, meat is coated in salt to help pull out any excess blood. The larger grain salt does this better than typical table salt, and so the name was born.
Fine-grain table salt is not “pure” salt. It is often iodized, meaning that salts of the element Iodine are added into it. Commercially processed salt also has something called an anti-caking agent. This prevents the salt from getting lumpy and ensures a smooth pour. There can even be small amounts of dextrose in salt. Sugar in salt? Now I’ve seen everything!
Kosher salt tends to avoid these additives, making it the “pure stuff.” It’s the preferred salt for most chefs.
What is sea salt?
Spoiler alert: Sea salt comes from the sea.
Sea salt is identifiable by its large, flaky, and coarse texture. Like kosher salt, it tends to avoid iodine and other additives, which means it’s also the “pure stuff.” Companies like Morton’s also make a fine version of sea salt, but the big flakes are the classic archetype.
Due to its texture, sea salt is often used differently than other salts. It would seem a waste to use it in pasta water, however, as a finishing garnish, it’s delightful. It enhances the flavor of meat when sprinkled atop it just before eating, and it famously is an excellent addition to desserts like chocolate chip cookies.
What’s the difference between kosher salt and sea salt?
The primary difference between the two is how they are harvested. As I’ve already spoiled, sea salt comes from the sea. It is extracted through an evaporation process that is rather time-consuming. As a result, sea salt tends to be more expensive than most other salts. Kosher salt, on the other hand, is mined from the earth.
Kosher salt crystals are large and uniform, thanks to being commercially produced. This is important if you’re concerned with the exact measurements of a recipe or the “saltiness” of a certain dish. A tablespoon of kosher salt is going to be a more reliable measurement than a similar one of flaky sea salt.
Can you substitute sea salt for kosher salt?
If you are baking and the recipe calls for kosher salt, I would be wary about substituting any other salt. Baking is kitchen wizardry, so any slight variation in measurements can have catastrophic results. But in terms of taste, sea salt and kosher salt are virtually interchangeable if you cook with them. Just follow the direction “salt to taste” to the letter. Add salt gradually and taste as you go.
So, when it comes down to it, the real differences between kosher salt and sea salt are the size and shape of the granules, the price, and the salts’ origins. It’s land vs sea—pick your side.