Don't be bashful: If you don't know the difference between kosher, table and sea salt, you're not alone. But salt is probably the most important weapon in a chef's arsenal after a good knife, so it's worth setting the record straight.
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Though the chemical makeup of these three commonly used salts is the same, the texture and density differs. Here's what you need to know.
What it is: Table salt consists of fine, evenly shaped crystals, which makes it denser than other salts. It's typically mined from salt deposits underground and may also contain anti-clumping agents, such as calcium silicate.
When to use it: As the name implies, it's good for keeping out on the table for last-minute seasoning. It's also good for salting pasta water or seasoning soups.
What it is: Kosher salt is less refined than table salt. Its larger flakes don't compact together as neatly, so a pinch is a little coarser and not as dense.
When to use it: Kosher salt is the most versatile. It's great for seasoning before, during and after cooking. It's especially good for seasoning meat before cooking.
What it is: Sea salt undergoes the least processing. Flakes are collected from evaporated seawater and may contain residual minerals that could alter the color. The unevenly shaped flakes don't stack up evenly and create a less dense pinch.
When to use it: Sea salt is typically more expensive, which means you'll want to use it with caution. It's best for finishing.
If you're wondering how important all this is when you're cooking, the short answer is somewhat. The longer answer? You can use these salts interchangeably if you have to, but it's really worth using the proper kind for the right occasion.
But if you use only one salt, make it kosher. Better yet? Make it Diamond Crystal salt. Tasting Table's food editor swears by it, and so should you.