Salt at Penzey's -- Can You Taste a Difference?

Salt is no spice but it's now at Penzy's

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By David Hammond

I remember walking into Penzey's spice shop some years ago to see what kinds of salt they had in stock.

"We don't carry salt," said one of the clerks. "It's not a spice."

And she was right, of course. Salt is a mineral.

So I was surprised when I went back to Penzey's in early June to find many varieties of salt for sale: Pacific Sea Salt ground coarse or fine, French Grey Salt, and Kosher Style Flake.

I eat a lot of salt. I put it on everything. My blood pressure is just fine, thanks, and until I start developing problems, I'm going to keep eating salt because, I feel, salt improves the flavor of just about anything.

I have wondered, though, whether there really is a flavor difference between different kinds of salt. There certainly is a textural difference: French Grey is moister and seems to melt more quickly than, for instance, Pacific Sea Salt; chunkier salt seems right for pretzel, while finer stuff is more desirable on popcorn.

In terms of flavor, though…I'm not sure there is a great difference between various salt types, though there may be some.

A few years ago, we had some pink Hawaiian salt that was derived from the ocean by drying the salty water upon volcanic rock until the water evaporated and all was left was the salt. This salt seemed to pick up some of the mineral characteristics of the rock, so basically Hawaiian salt is just another form of "seasoned" sea salt because the distinctive flavor doesn't actually come from the salt itself.

On their website, Penzey's takes a very no-nonsense approach to salt, as though they're still not completely comfortable selling the stuff: "For years we have stayed away from selling salts. We find more excitement in blending spices (sometimes with salt) than in just packaging a product we get elsewhere. All salt is really sea salt. The salt mines are just bringing up salt that settles at the bottom of the sea many millions of years ago. Still, the magazines and cookbooks keep calling for sea salt and it really has become the most asked for item that, until now, we didn't sell. If you are on a budget, don't buy the expensive sea salts, go for the kosher style flake salt."

I tend to buy Manischewitz Kosher Salt, which is less expensive still, and it's just fine.

Most people probably use one of the many iodized salts on the market, and these salts do, indeed, provide the vital nutrient, but some claim they can taste the iodine in the salt. I think I can, but I've never done a blind test to confirm that there really is a difference.

And though Manischewitz is a good everyday salt, I really do enjoy the different textures of salt, so even if it does all pretty much taste alike if you put a tablespoon in to a soup or a few shakes on your eggs, different salts do feel different in the mouth.

Despite their uniformity of tastes, different salts do provide a somewhat different dining experience. And if you eat three times or more a day, as most of us do, you will appreciate the variations that different kinds of salt provide, even if it is, after all, just salt.

Reader Comments

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David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 24th, 2013 12:33 PM

Ladies, ladies, please. I specifically mentioned the nutritional necessity of iodine in the piece above (you read it, right?), and regarding Violet Aura's comment that "The typical salt you buy is overy [sic] processed and refined," well, I don't buy that kind of salt. Now, if you're talking about the bulk stuff sold at some grocery stores (but not Penzey's), then that salt is perhaps overly processed. Perhaps. However, the reason iodine is added to salt is because back in 1924 the government mandated it owing to the low levels of iodine found in SOIL (and thus transferred to the foods we eat; the lack of iodine in the soil led to iodine deficiencies) [http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/iodine-in-salt/]. In addition, there's so much iodized salt in so many things we eat that I'm not really worried about getting a goiter. Actually, I'm more concerned about getting too much iodine, which the National Institutes of Health say can cause vomiting, coma?and, yes, goiter [http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-QuickFacts/]

Carrie from Oak park  

Posted: July 24th, 2013 12:00 PM

Violet is right, but to expand on why iodine is added, this was a public health initiative when goiter was a problem due to iodine deficiency away from the oceans (a major problem here in the midwest). It quickly solved the problem.

Violet Aura  

Posted: July 24th, 2013 10:38 AM

David, I am surprised that I am about to school a food expert! The typical salt you buy is overy processed and refined. Like white sugar, it is stripped of its minerals, heated to high temps and even bleached sometimes. When you buy any product minimally processed, a low heat does not alter it much (and therefore retains the flavor) and the nutrients are available. Why do you think iodine is added to salt in the first place? It's present in sea veggies.

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