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Kosher salt is all the rage on food television (and food-related YouTube channels). It’s what the cool kids use. Why is it so popular? Well, it’s popular for several real and imagined reasons. To be clear, kosher salt is chemically identical to ordinary table salt. it is simply salt that is crystallized into larger crystals.
A lack of additives is one reason some chefs prefer kosher salt. Another is that the larger crystals that make it easy to pinch and dispense. The larger crystals don’t actually have any special properties in cooking. The reason that it is called kosher salt is that the larger crystals make it more suitable for the salting of meat to remove the blood, which is important to Jewish cooking.
First, let’s address some general myths about the term ‘kosher’ applied to the salt.
Kosher Salt Comes From the Dead Sea
False! Kosher salt does not all come from the dead sea. It comes from the same places other salt comes from. It can be mined from anywhere salt is mined from. It does not have to be taken from evaporated salt near the sea.
Kosher Salt is Kosher and is Blessed by a Rabbi
Nope! Kosher salt is just a monicker. Any course grain salt suitable for the salting of meat can be called kosher salt. It is not made kosher by the blessing of a rabbi, although some brands (Morton) have claimed in the past that their kosher salt was packaged under Rabbinical supervision. Kosher salt is simply what we call koshering salt, which is salt that is used to draw liquid (meaning blood) from meat. Large crystals are more suited for doing this.
Kosher Salt Never Has Any Additives
Again, false. Kosher salts can have additives. They may have anti-caking ingredients to keep them free-flowing as does table salt. They are not usually fortified with iodine, though. The most popular brands, Diamond and Morton, do not have any additives.
It’s Harder to Oversalt with Kosher Salt
If all kosher salt was exactly the same, you could add the same amount as you would of table salt and then need a bit more, and a bit more. The rule of thumb is that you need about twice as much kosher salt as you do table salt. In reality, different kosher salts will require different ratios when measured relative to table salt.
Since table salt is made up of very small but regularly shaped and squarish crystals, it packs together better in a container. Kosher salt is made of large, more irregular crystals which don’t pack together very efficiently. So, a teaspoon of kosher salt will have a lot more dead space, and air, than a teaspoon of regular table salt. Therefore, the important thing is the actual amount of salt in weight.
Morton’s Coarse Kosher salt is around 75% the weight of regular table salt. You do the math. Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt does weigh half the amount of table salt. So, with Diamond, you’d need twice the amount of salt but otherwise, it depends on the brand and knowing the relative weights. You could easily ‘oversalt’ with kosher salt if you didn’t know. Different brands will give you other weights, as well.
Let’s examine this general oversalting claim. Chefs just repeat this with no explanation. “It’s harder to oversalt with kosher salt.” Why? There is no special reason that kosher salt will keep you from over-salting. It’s not ‘more forgiving’ to quote a YouTube video I recently viewed. It’s ordinary salt. It doesn’t care about your dish. If you use too much, your food will be too salty.
Kosher Salt Tastes Less Salty On Your Tongue
So, why do people believe this? Because Kosher salt tastes less salty on the tongue. Kosher salt has less surface area than the same amount of table salt. So, when you taste it, it doesn’t taste as salty. If you sprinkle kosher salt on a dish to finish it and it doesn’t dissolve in solution, you could use more without it tasting as salty. This leads people to believe that is it ‘more forgiving.’
However, using kosher salt as a finishing salt is not the same as using it inside a dish in which it will dissolve and disperse. Once both salts are dissolved and dispersed into a dish, so that you are not tasting large grains, the properties are the same. In other words, you will need the same relative weight of salt to equal the same saltiness.
To make this simple, if you use twice as much Diamond Crystal Salt as you would table salt, and give it time to dissolve, the results should be the same. There is nothing special at work here. If you are not measuring, however, you still have to use your judgment and taste as you go.
But, as the salt dissolves, that surface area comes into play. Since table salt presents MUCH more surface area to, say, a simmering soup, it will dissolve more quickly. With any salt, you need to wait an adequate amount of time after adding before tasting so that the salt will have time to dissolve. If you don’t, you can easily oversalt. If you are not used to kosher salt, you could taste too soon and therefore oversalt. The idea that there is some magical mechanism at work that will keep this from happening is silly.
Kosher Salt is Easier to Pinch
I’d love to watch the infomercial where the host struggles to grab a pinch of table salt and struggles violently before declaring, “There has to be a better way!” Sure, you can pinch table salt between your fingers and distribute it over food. I do it all the time.
The Not So Pinchy Pinch
That infomercial almost exists. I’ve noticed that any time someone wants to demonstrate how much better kosher salt is for pinching, they will pick up some table salt between their very loose fingers and let it just flow freely. Well of course, if you don’t actually pinch the salt it’s gonna pour out of your fingers. It’s one thing to say that table salt doesn’t pinch as well as kosher salt. It’s another to pretend it’s impossible to pinch. Go ahead and try it.
When you pinch some kosher salt between your fingers, though, you have more control. It is nowhere near as dramatic a difference as some experts pretend, but it’s there. Table salt wants to run through your fingers more and larger amounts will come out when you want small amounts to come out. Still, if you are used to it and use a sheering or twisting motion with your fingers, you can sprinkle table salt pretty well this way. It’s not rocket surgery.
With kosher salt, you can hold the larger crystals between your fingers and control the release more precisely, thus distributing the salt over food more evenly. You can also hold more between your fingers at once. Then again, you’d want less table salt…
Regardless, this is all great, as long as you want a large salt crystal. It doesn’t work as well for something like french fries.
But, still, it’s true. Kosher salt gives you some more control when sprinkling salt over a dish. If you are salting a steak or a piece of chicken, this may be, well, somewhat better. When chefs pretend that this is a huge advantage through all cooking, however, they are gilding the lily. Or, just repeating what they’ve always heard. Personally, I find the sprinkling advantage of kosher salt to be minor and for actual cooking in solution, there is no advantage at all.
No Advantage in Solution
Anytime you are cooking a dish with liquid and the salt is going to dissolve into the liquid, the type of salt, table or kosher, will make NO difference whatsoever (that you can detect) as long as you add the amount that is necessary to get the taste you want. The idea that pinching some kosher salt and sprinkling it into soup is far superior to adding a small amount of table salt from a shaker or a spoon is just, well, made up. It’s not true.
Some sources suggest that kosher salt dissolves quicker due to the ‘less dense’ crystals. This is untrue. The larger crystals, again, present less surface area to the solution and so dissolve more slowly. This is important when seasoning your food for taste as you must give the salt time to dissolve and disperse within the dish before tasting again and adding more salt if needed. For this, whatever salt you are used to working with will work best for you. Period.
If you need a salt to dissolve more quickly, like when making a brine, go with table salt or a salt labeled ‘sea salt.’
Do You Need Two Different Kinds Of Salt, Kosher and Regular?
it’s really up to you. if you think the relative advantage that kosher has over table salt when salting a finished dish is a game-changer, go ahead and give it a try. You can buy Diamond Crystal Salt and you’ll know the relative amount is twice as much as table salt in recipes. You may still want some table salt around for other purposes, like popcorn, brines, etc.
But if you really don’t want to have two salts on hand (some people have three or more), then regular old table salt won’t let you down. I think you can figure out how to use a salt shaker when sprinkling it on finished food or you can practice sprinkling it with your fingers. I promise you, it’s not as bad as they say. And you’ll want it for a tomato sandwich.
As I stated above, kosher salt or koshering salt is simply salt with a large crystal. Any large crystal salt might be labeled as kosher salt or have kosher on the label. For instance, “Sea Salt, Coarse Kosher.”
While some kosher salts are simply mined from the same salt mines from which comes regular table salt, other salts labeled kosher may be harvested from evaporated seawater. There is even a brand that is “harvested in a migratory bird reserve.” I have no idea what difference that makes unless bird poop imparts a certain desirable flavor to the finished salt.
But, jokes aside, a course “kosher” salt that is harvested from evaporated salt flats near a sea may have more trace minerals present and thus have a slightly different taste, like some fancy sea salts from exotic locations. This may make a very slight difference when used as a finishing salt, or a major difference if it is something like ‘Hawaiian Black Sea Salt’ which contains volcanic charcoal. For more on this see the article on fleur de sel.
For regular cooking, you’ll want a ‘regular’ kosher salt, so pay attention, lest you purchase a salt that is a bit fancier than you intended but which will make little difference in your cooking. Remember that the extra trace minerals in fancy sea salts like pink salt, despite exaggerated claims to the contrary, will make absolutely no difference to your health as they are present in minute amounts. We just don’t add enough salt to food for these trace minerals to make a significant impact on our nutrition and health. And, when you add these salts to food and dissolve it, you will not be able to tell the difference in the taste. You’ll just pay more than you need for a ‘kosher’ salt.
Baking With Kosher Salt
Don’t use kosher salt for baking. Baking recipes are developed using table salt and you need the salt to dissolve quickly. Kosher salt just won’t work for baking, especially if you don’t know the precise amount you need given the brand you use.
So, Is Kosher Salt Better?
The more I think about it, the more this kosher salt thing seems like a lot of hooplas. I used it for a couple of months and, to be honest, my life didn’t change. It just didn’t make a difference to me. While working on this article, I pinched some table salt and sprinkled it over a black plastic surface. I was able to distribute the salt very evenly. It wasn’t difficult. I do it all the time. Would I have achieved more even results with kosher salt? Maybe. Would it have made a huge difference on actual food? I doubt it. The number one advantage of kosher salt, in my mind, is just overblown and is part of a hype machine created by people who joined the kosher salt bandwagon and can’t admit that they got on a train made of lollipops and gingerbread.
So, no, I don’t bother with kosher salt. I use regular old table salt. I don’t use fancy sea salts either. Then again, I’m no gourmet. There are some reasons that kosher salt may work better for you (except when it doesn’t) and there is absolutely no reason not to buy it and use it. But will it change your life and make you want to climb a mountain so you can be closer to the kosher salt Gods (or would that be twenty leagues under the sea)? I doubt it. There are subjective reasons to favor any type of salt, but the technical reasons are few and of minor importance in the big scheme.