From table salt to pink Himalayan, all salt crystals come from evaporated ocean water. How they’re evaporated affects size, texture, and taste.
It’s easy to overlook salt — the idea that it just magically appears at the grocery store or on your dinner table seems logical enough. Salt is so synonymous with food and cooking that sometimes we forget to think of it as its own element. But without salt, most food would be bland. Salt enhances flavor and can change the texture of certain foods. The most common salt we tend to think / know about is table salt ––but table salt is just the beginning of what salt can offer. The way salt is harvested affects the size of the crystal, the structure, texture, taste, and even saltiness.
There are three main methods of harvesting salt:
1. Solar Evaporation
2. Deep Shaft Mining
3. Vacuum Evaporation
Within these categories there are many many sub-categories. I’ll be sharing a high-level overview of how salt is made to provide a general picture, so salt nerds ––please don’t come for me if I left out your favorite salt harvesting process!
1. Solar Evaporation
Solar Evaporation is the process of using the sun to evaporate ocean water. What’s left behind from this process are the salt crystals. This process tends to produce some of the higher quality salts since the evaporation is very time consuming and produces one of the more unique salt textures. Solar evaporation produces sea salts such as Fleur De Sel, Sel Gris, and Maldon.
Fleur De Sel: “Flower of the salt” Harvested from the surface of sea salt beds in Western France.
Sel Gris: “Gray Salt” Salt falls below the surface of the water and attracts minerals such as magnesium, chloride, and calcium sulfate which gives the salt a gray hue.
Maldon: Much like Fleur de Sel but takes on a hollow pyramid shape resulting in a flaky texture
2. Deep Shaft Mining
Deep shaft mining involves the extraction of salt from a mine through the use of explosives, tools, and machinery. The harvested salt is typically transported from the mine to be further processed –either crushed or vacuum evaporated. Salt mining produces rock salts such as Himalayan salt, Black salt, and Lava salt.
Himalayan salt: Pink due to the presence of iron oxide. Primarily mined in Pakistan.
Black Salt: Begins as pink salt but turns black once heated.
Lava Salt: Salt coated with activated charcoal giving it a smoky flavor.
3. Vacuum Evaporation (Solution Mining)
Vacuum Evaporation or Solution Mining is the rapid evaporation of ocean water in either a closed or open container, leaving behind salt crystals. Vacuum Evaporation produces sea salts such as Granular Table Salt and Kosher Salt.
Granular Table Salt: Small, granular salt that’s most commonly consumed. Additives are included to prevent caking and increase shelf life.
Kosher Salt (open vacuum): Small granular salt with no additives. Evaporated in an open container yielding light, hollow flakes (Diamond Crystal.)
Kosher Salt (closed vacuum):Small, granular salt with no additives. Evaporated in a closed vacuum yielding dense and salty flakes (Morton.)
4. Bonus: Plants!
Though not technically a production method, there are certain edible plants that have adapted to filter salt water and can be used in cooking or eaten raw.
Salt bush, typically found in dry areas with salty soil and little water, can absorb salt water and secrete any excess salt onto its leaves. The leaves can be used in cooking or as seasoning to add a salty, earthy flavor to a dish.
Pickleweed, typically found in estuaries, marshes, and bay shorelines, can absorb salt water and store excess salt in a dedicated segment or chamber of the plant. Once the segment becomes full with salt, it turns red and dies off from the plant. Pickleweed can be eaten raw or boiled like a green beans.
Next time you’re at the store, try out a new salt. Taste test your table salt vs. a flaky salt. You can taste the subtle differences formed through unique production and harvesting techniques. No matter how your salt was produced, it went on a journey to get to your plate. I think it’s worth the second thought.
✍️ Edited by: Kelli Wilbert