This week in “people fabricate a scandal by blowing an innocuous article out of proportion: ” salt.
Voraciously, an awkwardly-named subdivision of the Washington Post focusing on food and dining, recently announced that all of their recipes from now on would call for fine sea salt or table salt.
You might not think that this would matter at all, and that this is a weird thing to announce. However, think of all the salts on the market right now. Himilayan pink salt, fleur de sel, all the different smoked and flavored salts, and, lastly, the only one of these that you would admittedly actually be cooking with, kosher. Even as food media has veered away from most cheffy pretensions towards more homestyle cooking, kosher salt has continued to be the gold standard among restaurateurs and home cooks alike.
The biggest reason for this is that the big flakes make it easier to grab a pinch’s worth and sprinkle it on or into whatever it is you’re cooking. This is great if you’re salting to taste, but if you’re the kind of person who has to follow the recipe to the T OR ELSE, or if you’re baking (and need to measure, because you could risk throwing the whole formula out of whack), these properties don’t matter much when packing into a measuring spoon.
In fact, as WaPo points out, it’s kosher salt’s unwillingness to play well with spoons that motivated this change in the first place.
As it turns out, the 2 biggest names in kosher salt, Diamond Crystal and Morton, actually have 2 different sized flakes. Diamond Crystal’s flakes are so big (and thus pack loosely in a measuring spoon) that, according to WaPo, it takes 2 tablespoons to get the same concentration of salt as 1 ½ tablespoons of Morton, or 1 tablespoon of fine table salt.
And there lies the crux of this whole “controversy.” One might not think there’d be a difference from one salt to another, but if a recipe tested for Diamond Crystal was replicated at home with table salt, it would be twice as salty! And even if the recipe specifies kosher, restaurants use Diamond Crystal, which means that recipe testers probably use Diamond Crystal, so if a home cook uses Morton they wouldn’t even know what they did wrong!
At the end of the day, recipe writers are catering specifically to home cooks. This means that not only do recipes need to be as consistent as possible, but they have to be as accessible as possible. Most people are going to have some form of fine table or sea salt on hand, but would you, the reader, really be willing to go back to the store just because a recipe calls for one specific brand of salt?
(Fun fact, my dad once put my Diamond Crystal in our salt shakers and, surprise! It didn’t fit through the holes. He then also proceeded to use the rest of the 3 lb box for the saline solution in his janky, low-tech ice cream machine. Thanks, dad.)
Regardless, people in the comments section had things to say. 149 of them, to be precise. Some gems include:
- A guy complaining that his doctor says he needs to eat more salt
- A guy saying there’s microplastics in sea salt
- A couple of people saying that if they really cared about consistency, they would switch to measuring recipes by weight instead of volume (a claim I 100% agree with when baking, but don’t know about for cooking)
- Several people arguing back and forth over whether or not you can taste the iodine in iodized table salt (and a handful of people who don’t know what goiters are)
- A guy who just straight-up doesn’t know what “season to taste” means
- A guy who seemed to be implying that because countries have fought wars over salt in the past, we shouldn’t be eating salt at all.
- A guy who said “whatever I can’t get your recipes to work anyways”
- The poor, poor author of the piece, doing her best to answer all seemingly earnest questions that got posted.
- Honorable mention: a person on Twitter referring to a box of Diamond Crystal as “contraband” that alerted me to any of this happening in the first place
Tune in next week to watch me taste test every salt at the grocery store to see which one has the best microplastics.