A Tasting Tour of Salts Around the World

Food critic Mimi Sheraton samples the different kinds of the world’s most ancient and essential ingredient

In southwest Bolivia, the world’s largest salt flats sit atop a vast pool of brine on the Salar de Uyuni. (Ivan Kashinsky and Karla Gachet)
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Color aside, the fleur de sel from Brittany and the Camargue would vie for first place, with its virtually identical, beautifully sparkling, diamond white grains and quintessential sea breeze flavor, with only the least tang of bitterness. The grains were so delicate they are perhaps wasted on the lustiest foods, such as roasted meats and poultry, and more suitable to salads and fish. Fleur de sel from Ibiza was a bit more intensely salty and softer in texture but still quite pleasant.

Sel gris, from Brittany, was almost as delicate as the fleur de sel, but a bit softer in texture. It had just enough mineral underpinnings to make it a more effective seasoning for meats, as it is used by Eli Kaimeh, the chef at Per Se.

Maldon salt, though beautifully glittering and glassy, had an overpowering bitterness, but the crunchy texture of its large flakes makes it a lovely contrast to paper-thin slices of raw scallops and tuna.

Hawaii’s black and vermilion salts were salty all right, but without special distinction other than their colors.The salts from California and Utah were less distinguished than the others and had slightly more mineral accents but were still preferable to processed table salt.

Trapani salt was especially snowy and fine-grained and would be very good sprinkled on tomatoes or raw cucumbers, as would the larger, slightly duller flakes from Cyprus.

“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?”—Matthew 5:13

Luckily, we have yet to face that dilemma. But consider that, according to research done by Linda Bartoshuk and others, each of us perceives saltiness in different measure. What is salty for me, may not be for you. That makes the common admonition in recipes “Salt, to taste” a precarious phrase, indeed. It’s also why salt should always be at the table, despite chefs who think otherwise in their attempt to wrest control from diners.

Ivan Kashinsky and Karla Gachet produced Historias Minimas, a book on traveling from the Equator to Tierra del Fuego.

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