Substituting Gourmet Salt in Cooking and Baking

Can you substitute fancy salt for kosher or table salt in cooking and baking?

We have found in previous tastings that salt, no matter how fancy, basically tastes like salt, with occasional traces of mild mineral flavors. Salts do differ considerably, however, in the size of their crystals. So to see how much difference a substitution would make in cooked dishes, we made chicken noodle soup, mashed potatoes, and chocolate chip cookies using table salt (very fine granules), Celtic sea salt (kosher salt–size granules), Maldon salt (large, flaky crystals), and coarse Himalayan pink salt (rock salt–size granules).

Since crystal size determines how much salt by weight is in a given amount by volume, to make a fair comparison we substituted by weight rather than by volume. For example, our first recipe, chicken noodle soup, called for 1 tablespoon of table salt, which weighs 19 grams. To get the same 19 grams of Maldon salt (which has much larger crystals), we had to use 3 full tablespoons. For the other salts, we needed about 20 percent more salt by volume to reach the required weight.

The soup recipe worked fine with each type of salt, though some tasters commented on slight “mineral-y” flavors in some batches. In the mashed potatoes, things started to unravel for the Himalayan pink salt. Its large, dense crystals didn’t dissolve, leaving the potatoes bland in some places, studded with salty gravel in others. This salt was equally unsuccessful in chocolate chip cookies. Tasters didn’t notice anything amiss, however, with the mashed potatoes and cookies made with Maldon or Celtic sea salt.

But there’s also another factor to consider: price. At our local supermarket, table salt costs about $0.03 per ounce. Maldon and Celtic sea salt are both about 25 times that, at $0.79 and $0.74 per ounce, respectively, while the Himalayan pink salt came in at nearly $1.50 per ounce, 50 times the cost of plain old table salt. We’ll save the spendy salts for finishing, where their unique textures and mineral flavors are actually noticeable.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Save the exotic salts for sprinkling on food just before serving.

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