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By Laura Stec

Tis the Seasonings

Uploaded: Dec 4, 2014

The older I get, the more I think culinary gifts are great choices for friends and family. People will actually use them, and in doing so get turned on to new tastes and techniques. Culinary gifts are easy to find and affordable. You get a lot of gift for your giving! Last year we did an article on some options. This year, I want to focus on just salt.

There's a dramatic difference in the taste of salts. If you have never done a side-by-side comparison of Morton vs. Kosher, please do so. You will never eat Morton salt again ? it tastes terrible. Tinny actually. Also interesting is Morton has double the sodium of Kosher, mostly because the grains are smaller and more can fit in the same space. Morton was made small enough to fit though salt shaker holes,* and to prevent clogging, an "anti-caking agent" is used which could also add to the off taste.

Artisan salts have a more pronounced flavor and texture, and because of this you can actually use less. Some are rich in trace minerals, but you'd have to eat a lot of salt to really benefit health-wise. So use them for taste instead, and some specifically at the end of cooking as a flavor boost. These salts are called "finishing" salts ? applied after the dish is done. Finishing salts can also help finish your shopping lists quite effectively.
There are three basic salts every kitchen should have. Your friends and family might have one of them, but probably not all three. Perfect for stocking stuffers or the hard to shop for person, a jar of quality salt should be appreciated by most everyone this holiday season.

Fleur de Sel
Translated as "flower of the sea," this salt is the granddaddy of all finishing salts, harvested as a layer of fragile crystals. It is carefully skimmed from the top of salt pans, giving it a bright color and clean flavor, and praised for its high minerality, moisture content and crunch. Think Kosher with a college education. Put it in a cute salt bowl and serve at the dinner table. Or use for other non-cooking applications like salad dressings.

Flake Salt
Really fun and unique ? this salt reminds me of snowflakes ? and 'tis the seasoning! Seawater is evaporated into a brine which is heated to produce pyramid-shaped crystals. It comes in different sizes, but I like the really thin, delicate flakes. Sprinkle them on a steak, tofu or veggies after grilling. They add flavor, but also a special, unexpected crunch to any dish.

Sel Gris
Sel gris is not as popular, but certainly as powerful as the first two. Darker in color, it is raked from the bottom of the saltpan during harvest. Sel gris is coarser than fleur de sel, with a stronger, deeper flavor (though it can be found ground fine). If it is coarser ? you want to cook it into dishes such as soups and stews, rather than use as a finishing salt. Or, make sure you grind it fine before using as a finishing agent.

Question ? eating too much sodium is one of biggest problems in the U.S. diet. Guess where most of that salt comes from, and what food is one of the biggest offenders.

Photo by Christine Krieg Photography

* Note: I never use a salt shaker, and certainly not while cooking. You are not in control of your salt if it comes out of a shaker. If you insist on putting your salt in a shaker, make sure to shake it into your hand before adding to a dish, not directly into the dish.