What is Kosher salt and what makes it different?
Kosher salt appears as an ingredient in most barbecue and general cooking recipes. But what exactly is it, and why is it important to know the difference?
Sodium Chloride. That’s the more complex scientific name for salt. More like Sodi-YUM. Am i right?! I mean, all foods would be infinitely less delicious without the addition of that most magical of seasonings, salt. Have you ever tried some salts and thought “hrmm, this actually tastes saltier than the other kind I usually use”? Well good news, you’re not crazy, you’re actually just very perceptive. In fact, when I write my recipes, I usually just specify “salt to taste” without talking about the variety or how much to use. And here’s why: some salts are in fact saltier than others. MIND BLOWN!
To be more specific, they’re not saltier in their make up, it’s all the same compound, but it’s all about the density. That is, how much space or air is in each crystal of salt, which affects how much sodium chloride the crystal is actually comprised of. It seems complicated, but I’m gonna tell it to you as simple as I can: basically, some types of salt actually have a greater amount of salt per crystal, so they taste saltier.
What is the difference between table and kosher salt?
Bringing it back to your kitchen, this means that table salt is actually double as salty as kosher salt. DOUBLE! So if a recipe says 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, and you’re using that convenient table salt that you have hanging around, you’re putting twice the amount of salt in to your dish than the recipe intended and that, my friends, could be disastrous.
So what can you do about it? It’s actually a pretty simple fix. Just add salt by weight, not volume. But let’s be realistic, most of us don’t have scales hanging around for measuring this type of stuff. Really, as long as you’re aware table salt is gunna be double the strength of kosher, you can adjust the amounts yourself as you go.
So what exactly is kosher salt?
Now you know why you can’t just substitute kosher salt in a recipe, let’s talk about what it actually is. Unlike the same suggests, Kosher salt isn’t about actually being Kosher (ie, blessed by a Rabbi and in accordance with the laws of Kashrut), but rather that it’s salt designed to be used for the koshering process. Kosher laws dictate the meat must be free from blood, so the larger grained salts were favored for drawing out any excess blood. Over the years, that style of salt has come to be generically referred to as Kosher Salt. All this confusion would be most easily fixed if it were simply referred to as “koshering salt”.
Pro tip – if you don’t live in an area where Kosher Salt is readily available, I would advise against randomly calling your local synagogue to ask where you can get some. It’s kinda like calling the Belgian embassy to find out where the waffles are at. Try ordering online instead.
And just to complicate things further, there’s a huge difference between the density of the two major brands of kosher salt, Morton and Diamond Crystal, so be sure to check the side of the box you purchase for full info.
Why is kosher salt preferable for cooking?
- Easy to distribute: The larger grains make it more tactile, easier to pinch between your fingers and sprinkle, so it’s more precise.
- Less likely to over-salt: since it’s about half as “salty” than table salt, it takes more of if to over salt a dish.
- Great base for bark: particularly with barbecue, a physical crust is a great foundation to a good bark (which is why BBQ joints predominantly use coarse 10/16 gauge cracked pepper). The bigger grains and ability to use more of it make for a great bark starting point.
Other types of salts used for cooking
While we’re talking about all things salt, you may also want to consider some other types of culinary salts to add to your arsenal. I like using delicate salt flakes as a finishing sprinkle on steaks – the large, flat flakes make for a pretty contrast and can easily be brushed away if you’ve added too much. I also use French Fleur De Sel for salted caramel and other desserts or dishes that need a definitive salty hit. The FDS granules are larger and ‘clumpier’ than kosher salt, so you get a really nice burst amongst the sweetness. And if I’m brining something I’ll try to use pickling salt, which has very fine granules to allow it to dissolve quickly in water.
All of the above is why “salt to taste” is such an important instruction. Plus, salting to taste takes into account that most immeasurable of standards- varying degrees of personal taste. However you salt, just remember the golden rule – you can always add more, but you can’t take it back out!
Want to learn more about the relationship of salt and steaks? Check out this dry brining method.
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