Salt is arguably one of the world’s most important cooking ingredients.
Without it, many meals would taste bland and unappealing.
However, not all salt is created equal. There are many varieties to choose from.
These include table salt, Himalayan pink salt, kosher salt, sea salt and Celtic salt, just to name a few.
Not only do they differ in taste and texture, but also in mineral and sodium content.
This article explores the most popular salt types and compares their nutritional properties.
Salt is a crystalline mineral made of two elements, sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl).
Sodium and chlorine are essential for your body, as they help your brain and nerves send electrical impulses.
Most of the world's salt is harvested from salt mines or by evaporating seawater and other mineral-rich waters.
Salt has various purposes, the most common being to flavor foods. Salt is also used as a food preservative, as bacteria have trouble growing in a salt-rich environment.
The reason that salt is often deemed unhealthy in large amounts is that it can raise blood pressure.
The vast majority of sodium in the Western diet comes from processed foods. If you eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods then you don't need to worry about adding some salt to your meals.
Summary Salt is made of two minerals, sodium and chloride, which are essential for human life. Too much salt can raise blood pressure, but there is very little evidence that eating less salt can improve health.
The most common salt is regular table salt.
This salt is usually highly refined — meaning that it’s heavily ground, with most of its impurities and trace minerals removed.
The problem with heavily ground salt is that it can clump together. For this reason, various substances — called anti-caking agents — are added so that it flows freely.
Food-grade table salt is almost pure sodium chloride — 97% or higher — but in many countries, it also contains added iodine.
The addition of iodine to table salt is the result of a successful public health preventative measure against iodine deficiency, which is common in many parts of the world.
Therefore, if you choose not to eat regular iodine-enriched table salt, make sure you're eating other foods that are high in iodine, such as fish, dairy, eggs and seaweed.
Summary Refined table salt is mostly composed of sodium chloride, with anti-caking agents added to prevent clumping. Iodine is often added to table salt as well.
Sea salt is made by evaporating seawater.
Like table salt, it is mostly just sodium chloride. However, depending on its source and how it was processed, it usually contains various trace minerals like potassium, iron and zinc.
The darker the sea salt, the higher its concentration of impurities and trace nutrients. However, due to ocean pollution, sea salt can also harbor trace amounts of heavy metals like lead.
Sea salt also contains microplastics — the microscopic remains of plastic waste. The health implications of microplastics in food are still unclear, but some researchers believe that health risks are low at current levels (5).
Unlike regular refined salt, sea salt is often coarse, as it’s less ground. If you sprinkle it on your food after cooking, it may have a different mouthfeel and cause a more potent flavor burst than refined salt.
The trace minerals and impurities found in sea salt can also affect its taste — but this varies greatly between brands.
Summary Sea salt is made by evaporating seawater. Though very similar to regular salt, it may contain small amounts of minerals. It also contains trace amounts of heavy metals and microplastics.
Himalayan salt is mined in Pakistan.
It comes from the Khewra Salt Mine, the second largest salt mine in the world.
Himalayan salt often contains trace amounts of iron oxide (rust), which gives it a pink color.
It also has small amounts of calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium, making it slightly lower in sodium than regular table salt.
Many people prefer the flavor of Himalayan salt over other types.
However, the main difference is simply the color, which can make any dish visually appealing.
Summary Himalayan salt is harvested from a large salt mine in Pakistan. It has a pink color due to the presence of iron oxide. It also contains trace amounts of calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Kosher salt is called "kosher" because it is used in certain Jewish culinary customs.
Traditional Jewish law requires blood to be extracted from meat before it is eaten. Because kosher salt has a flaky, coarse structure, it is particularly efficient at extracting blood.
The main difference between regular salt and kosher salt is the structure of the flakes. Chefs find that kosher salt — due to its large flake size — is easier to pick up with your fingers and spread over food.
Kosher salt will have a different texture and flavor burst, but if you allow the salt to dissolve in the food, there really isn't any difference compared to regular table salt.
However, kosher salt is less likely to contain additives like anti-caking agents and iodine.
Yet, keep in mind that a teaspoon of kosher salt weighs far less than a teaspoon of regular salt. Don't substitute one for the other at a 1:1 ratio or your food may end up too salty or too bland.
Summary Kosher salt has a flaky structure that makes it easy to spread atop your food. Though it’s not much different than regular salt, it’s less likely to contain anti-caking agents and added iodine.
Celtic salt is a type of sea salt that originally became popular in France.
It has a grayish color and also contains a bit of water, which makes it quite moist.
Celtic salt offers trace amounts of minerals and is a bit lower in sodium than plain table salt.
Summary Celtic salt has a light grayish color and is quite moist. It is made from seawater and contains trace amounts of minerals.
Foodies and chefs primarily choose their salt based on taste, texture, color and convenience.
Impurities — including trace minerals — can affect both the color and taste of the salt.
The size of the grain also affects how the salty flavor hits your tongue. Salt with a larger grain size can have a stronger flavor and last longer on your tongue.
However, if you allow the salt to dissolve in your dish, there shouldn't be any major taste difference between plain refined salt and the other gourmet salts.
If you like to use your fingers to sprinkle salt on food, dry salts with a larger grain size are much easier to handle.
Summary The main differences between salts are flavor, color, texture and convenience.
One study determined the mineral content of different types of salt (6).
The table below shows a comparison between table salt, Maldon salt (a typical sea salt), Himalayan salt and Celtic salt:
As you can see, Celtic salt has the least amount of sodium and the highest amount of calcium and magnesium. Himalayan salt contains a bit of potassium.
However, keep in mind that these are trace amounts. For example, the 0.3% content of magnesium for Celtic salt implies that you would need to eat 100 grams of salt to reach the RDI.
For this reason, the mineral content of the various salts is far from a compelling reason to choose one salt over another. These levels are negligible compared to what you obtain from food.
Summary Salt contains only trace amounts of minerals. As a result, choosing one type of salt over another is unlikely to significantly affect your health.
So far, no studies have compared the health effects of different types of salt.
However, if such a study were done, it’s unlikely that major differences would be found. Most salts are similar, consisting of sodium chloride and tiny amounts of minerals.
The main benefit of choosing less processed salts is that you avoid additives and anti-caking agents that are often found in regular table salt.
At the end of the day, salt is salt — its main purpose is to add flavor, but it’s not a health remedy.
Summary There are no studies comparing the health benefits of different types of salts. However, less processed salts usually do not contain additives.
Salt is perhaps the most widely used spice in the world.
Some people believe that salt is bad for you, but the reality is not that simple.
Though refined table salt is the most common type in the West, a number of other varieties exist. These include Celtic, Himalayan, kosher and sea salt.
However, there are few nutritional differences between these various types. While unrefined salts contain fewer additives, the main distinctions involve texture, grain size and flavor.
Feel free to experiment and choose the salt that’s right for you.