Salt is trendy these days. If you stroll into a high-end grocery store to restock this kitchen staple, you’ll find the shelf lined with a remarkable variety of colors—pink, grey, blue, black, red, and more! If you look closely, you’ll notice that the textures range from tiny grains to coarse, crystalline flakes. And, of course, there’s cost to consider. When faced with so many salt choices, figuring out which one you truly want can be tricky.
Here’s what you need to know to pick the best salt for your culinary and health needs.
Is Salt the Same as Sodium?
Salt, or sodium chloride (NaCI), is, as its chemical name suggests, made up of two elements: sodium and chloride. Its sodium content is 40% and its chloride is 60%.
While salt is vilified for causing high blood pressure and instigating heart disease, this vital electrolyte regulates water in your body, helps prevent dehydration, and plays an important role in muscle contractions and nerve impulses. So while you don’t want to eat too much salt, a no-salt diet would be inadvisable.
Remember that your sodium intake shoots way up from foods such as soy sauce, MSG, salad dressings, nuts, and even olives and pickles. Monitor your salt intake as well as consumption of salty foods in your diet (choose unsalted nuts whenever possible and ask for salad dressing on the side!) to make sure you aren’t consuming too much sodium.
Why You Should Pass on Table Salt
Let’s get this out of the way: table salt is probably not the best salt choice for most people. While it will likely be the most affordable option, it’s also the most highly processed.
Table salt is created by heating salt minerals mined from the earth to a scorching 1,200 °F. Unsurprisingly, this process destroys most of the beneficial compounds natural salt contains. Table salt is then mixed with chemicals to prevent caking, and sometimes bleached to achieve a whiter color.
In an article for the Global Healing Center, Dr. Edward Group explains that the cooking process used to transform natural salt (also unappetizingly known as “crude oil flake leftovers”) into table salt strips out the majority of the 80 important enzymes it initially contained.
Other, less processed forms of salt function as alkaline minerals that maintain our electrolyte balance, help us stay hydrated, and even out our sodium-to-potassium ratios. They also contain trace elements essential to thyroid, adrenal, and immune function. Last but not least, less processed forms of salt increase the secretion of the digestive enzymes that break down the food we eat so we can absorb the nutrients it contains.
7 Good Salt Choices
Now that we’ve addressed table salt, let’s move on to better salt choices. These seven options all have unique benefits in terms of taste, mineral content, health benefits, and price point. Only you can determine what type of salt is best for you, but the following information can help you make that decision.
1. Sea Salt
When people decide to branch out beyond table salt, sea salt is often the next kind they try. Typically made with very little processing, sea salt is the byproduct of the evaporation of ocean water or water from saltwater lakes. When the water disperses into the air, it leaves the salt crystals behind.
The mineral and trace element content of sea salt varies depending on the water source, which also determines its color, flavor, and coarseness. If you’re concerned about your iodine intake, sea salt could be a wonderful choice since it naturally contains a small amount of this vital nutrient.
Sea salt is also one of the most affordable alternatives to table salt, typically costing about $3.00 for a 26-ounce box. The same amount of table salt averages about $1.00, but given how long that will last you, you’re unlikely to feel a financial strain unless you’re on a very tight budget.
There is one serious drawback to consider with sea salt: pollution. As humans spill increasing amounts of pollutants into the ocean, the foods we source from the sea contain more toxins. This problem goes way beyond sea salt, but it’s something to keep in mind.
2. Himalayan Pink Salt
This popular salt choice gets its gorgeous color from the high amount of iron it contains. Sourced from ancient seabeds in the Himalayas, this salt is quite rich in more than iron alone: it contains all 84 trace elements your body needs.
Many health and wellness experts feel Himalayan salt is the healthiest salt choice. In her book Eat Smart, Live Long, Alicia Merrell writes that it can…
- Regulate your pH balance
- Maintain water levels
- Reduce muscle cramps
- Balance blood sugar levels
- Minimize unwanted signs of aging
- Promote cellular hydroelectric energy balance
- Support vascular health
- Protect kidney and gallbladder health
- Improve respiratory function and sinus health
- Encourage healthy sleep patterns
- Simulate libido
Thanks to its popularity, Himalayan pink salt is also one of the more affordable high-end salts out there.
3. Celtic Sea Salt
Also known as grey salt, thanks to the pigmentation left by the clay it’s harvested from, this variety is reported to have many of the same benefits as Himalayan pink salt. It’s said to restore electrolyte balance and prevent muscle cramping. It also has noted alkalizing properties.
Because of the labor-intensive way Celtic sea salt is collected—it’s hand-raked in Brittany, France, where the clay and sand form moist, mineral-rich crystals—it does tend to be on the expensive side.
4. Fleur de Sel
Hailing from the same stretch of Brittany coastline as Celtic sea salt, fleur de sel (meaning “flower of the salt”), comes at an even higher cost. For every 40 kilograms of Celtic sea salt harvested, only 1.5 kilograms of these delicate, prized crystals are collected.
The differentiating factors that drive up the price have to do with flavor and texture, not health benefits. Fleur de sel is also what’s known as a finishing salt, meaning only a sprinkle of the precious stuff is used to top off dishes.
5. Black Lava Salt
This unrefined salt, which comes from the volcanic areas of Hawaii, gets its distinctive color from its activated charcoal content. It also contains a generous amount of sulfur, which you can taste. Thanks to the activated charcoal, it’s a potent digestive aid and a helpful stimulant for flushing impurities from your body.
In addition to its health properties, black lava salt finds favor with many as a way to add an interesting visual element to dishes.
6. ‘Alaea Salt
Mineral-laden ‘Alaea salt—it’s said to contain at least 80—also comes from Hawaii’s rich volcanic earth. It has an especially high iron content, which gives it a lovely, brick red color.
It’s also said to have about 1/5 the amount of sodium of table salt, making it a good choice for those following a low-sodium diet. And because ‘Alaea has a bold flavor that does not diminish when cooked, you need to use less of it to obtain the same taste notes.
7. Persian Blue Salt
This is one of the rarest salts in the world and it has a price tag that reflects that. Unlike the salts discussed so far that owe their striking colors to their mineral contents, Persian blue salt gets its color from the compression of its structure over millennia. The same effect—which comes from the molecular structure compressing to the point it begins to reflect light differently—can be seen in glacial ice.
Persian blue salt is quite mineral rich, however, and has a slight sweetness to its flavor. That said, because it can only be sourced from a single, ancient lake in Iran, the high price may not be justified if you’re primarily interested in health benefits.
A Salty yet Low-Sodium Option
If you need to slash your salt intake for high blood pressure or other health reasons, but miss that burst of saltiness on your tongue, you may want to try kelp out as a salt substitute. “This seaweed is truly a superfood,” writes health blogger Genevieve Howland. Kelp is a valuable source of iron, calcium, potassium, and iodine. Although it’s low in sodium, it has a truly salty and delicious flavor. Howland does note that it gets a bit gelatinous when mixed with liquids.
What’s Going in Your Salt Shaker?
Now that you know there’s no need to swear off salt, what color do you take your salt? Pink, grey, blue, white, or all of the above? Let us know your favorite salt choice in the comments below.