The Basics of Salt

By Eliza Ward

Salt - but mostly "sea salt" - is all the rage these days – and your choices around which salts to buy and how to use them are growing by the minute. That’s a good thing for all of us, as well as a good thing for artisan salt-makers and traditional salt-making communities all over the world.

Salt 101

There are two main categories of natural salt – Evaporated salt and Rock salt. Evaporated salt is salt that which has precipitated out of a naturally occurring salty water solution, such as the ocean or sea, a salt water spring, or a salty river or lake. The salt is “made” by evaporating excess water out of the solution until it becomes so salty that the salts literally “fall out”. Evaporation can occur outdoors or indoors, with the help of the sun or with the help of another heat or energy source. Artisan evaporated salts are mostly made by hand, with the help of nature (sun and/or wind) or simple or limited mechanical means, such as geo-thermal energy or some other source of heat – such as burning wood or peat (which is where “smoked salts” come from …). The chemical makeup of natural sea salts can range from about 83% to 99.9% sodium chloride. I call all of these salts “sea salts”, regardless of the salt water source.

The other main category of natural salt is rock salt. Rock salt is excavated from ancient salt deposits that were created when the oceans receded hundreds of millions of years ago. Rock salt can range in texture and color from a pure white powder to a vibrantly colored (pink or purple or yellow) hard marble-like rock – such as Himalayan or Bolivian Pink salt. Sometime people call rock salt “Jurassic Salt” – because the salt deposits were formed so long ago. However, although my understanding of prehistoric history is limited, my recollection from when my son was into dinosaurs in pre-school is that the ancient seas receded during the Cretaceous period, not the Jurassic period – but what do I know?

Mined rock salt is mostly (99+%) sodium chloride – mostly because of the way the salt is mined, not because the general make-up of the ancient seas or residual deposits. The oceans, even back then, undoubtedly contained all the same minerals we see today – although not necessarily in the same percentages. Because sodium chloride is the most abundant mineral in sea water (83-85%), it leaves behind the widest and most easily excavated strata of the mineral deposit – thus the high percentage of sodium chloride in the final salt product.

Then there is a third type of salt that is not natural at all – I call it manufactured or industrial salt. Industrial salt is produced by large companies – usually chemical or fertilizer companies (Like Morton’s) – mostly based in China and the US. Industrial salt is the same as Kosher salt, and is 100% sodium chloride.

Click here to see the next article: The Brief History of Salt


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