Designer salt

It can look beautiful and taste a little different — but designer salt is still about 99% sodium chloride.
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  • Updated:5 Feb 2006

05.Quick course in designer salt

However designer the salt, it’s still about 99% sodium chloride. Impurities and trace amounts of other minerals can give it a slightly different flavour, but whether you’ll really still taste a difference after you’ve added it to the food and cooked it all together is a very open question. However, fancy salt does look good while you’re cooking. As Maeve O’Mara told us: “It’s an aesthetic thing — these salts are lovely on the table and they feel lovely between the fingers.”

The slight differences in looks and taste depend on the minute traces of various minerals and on how the different salts are made.

  • Sea salt is made by evaporating seawater. If it isn’t refined it contains traces of magnesium, calcium and other minerals that add a slightly bitter flavour (and it can also have a few algae, salt-tolerant bacteria and other bits and pieces).
  • MALDON sea salt comes as large, flaky crystals. It’s made from seawater “using only traditional natural methods” and claims to be “a completely natural product, retaining valuable seawater trace elements such as magnesium and calcium”.
  • HALEN MON Pure White sea salt comes from “the fresh Atlantic waters around the Isle of Anglesey” off Britain. Its label (in Welsh as well as English) claims, “Sea salt crystals provide a balance of minerals and trace elements such as magnesium, zinc, potassium and calcium.”
  • MASTERFOODS sea salt helpfully tells you that it “contains sodium, an essential trace element. Our bodies need it for healthy cell functioning.” All true — but no mention of how little sodium we in fact need.
  • MURRAY RIVER Gourmet salt flakes are also flaky crystals like MALDON, but they’re a pinkish-brown colour. They’re made from “underground saline waters” in the Murray-Darling Basin that have “been lying dormant for thousands of years”.
  • HORIZON Crystal salt flakes is another Australian product, also from an underground source of saline water (in northern Victoria). It claims to have “a full-bodied natural flavour that leaves no aftertaste or bitterness”.
  • Celtic salt is sea salt made using traditional methods on the Atlantic coast of Brittany in France. In the tradition of druids and sacred groves, BLOOMS Natural Celtic sea salt claims, “Celtic salt may have an effect on the aging process due to its influence on the structure of our cells.” Too good to be true? Probably — we asked the manufacturer for evidence to justify its claim, but none was forthcoming.
  • Rock salt comes from underground salt deposits. It’s usually been refined, otherwise it would be like the rough stuff that’s used for de-icing roads in North America. This doesn’t stop some manufacturers from making special claims. SELECT NATURALS rock salt, for example, says it’s “the natural choice for good health”.
  • Black salt from India is another version of rock salt. When ground it’s a pinkish-grey colour rather than black. It comes from volcanic regions and has a strong sulphurous flavour. You might see it recommended for people with high blood pressure or even claims that it contains no sodium — not true.

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