10 Exotic Salts

Fun, fancy versions of the kitchen staple

By Roxanne Webber

Celtic Sea Salt, Light Grey
Celtic Sea Salt, Light Grey

Hawaiian Alaea Red Sea Salt
Hawaiian Alaea Red Sea Salt

Cyprus Black Lava Salt
Cyprus Black Lava Salt

Much like eggs, salt seems to have shed its bad rap in the past few years, and the marketplace has responded, filling shelves with many varieties. If you want to get technical, these products are all still primarily sodium chloride, but with their distinctive textures, colors, and flavors, they’re fun to play with. Here are the some of the most interesting types.

1. Fleur de Sel de Guérande. Although you can find fleur de sel from southern France and Spain, some say that it originated in a town in the French province of Brittany called Guérande. This light and snowy sea salt is hand-harvested—and is, as a result, expensive—so it’s best used for finishing dishes; that way you can enjoy its crunch and flavor. We top Parker House Rolls with it or add it to steamed new potatoes for an extra spark. It’s also delicious sprinkled on sweets.

2. Celtic Sea Salt, Light Grey. Celtic grey salt is made in the same ponds as fleur de sel and is also called sel gris. This unrefined variety is hand-raked out of the salt ponds (as opposed to being skimmed carefully from the top like its expensive cousin), its tint courtesy of the minerals in the clay lining the ponds. It’s cheaper than fleur de sel and makes a good table salt, but you’ll have to pinch it from a bowl because its moistness makes it tough to get through a grinder or shaker. You’ll find other types of gray salts on the market, but this one appealed to us the most.

3. Hawaiian Alaea Red Sea Salt. This reddish-pink mix is a blend of sea salt and red Hawaiian volcanic clay (alaea). Iron oxide in the clay gives the salt its unusual color. Chowhounds offer some suggestions for using it: ScarletB likes it rubbed on steak or kalua pig, or sprinkled on poke-style fish, while Claudette warns that it’s a hard salt that doesn’t melt easily, which makes it good for precooking or crushing finely onto chicken or fish.

4. Maldon Sea Salt. This hand-harvested salt comes from the east coast of England. It has a distinct flaky texture and a relatively mild taste. We particularly like the flakes sprinkled on chocolate mousse.

5. Himalania Pink Salt. This salt is mined in the Himalayan foothills and often sold in chunk form with a grater. It picks up its pretty pinkish color from minerals like iron, and it adds a toothy bite to many dishes. You can also find it in large, flat blocks: some that can be heated and cooked upon, and some that are used cold as serving plates to impart a bit of saltiness to moist foods.

6. Kala Namak. Often called black salt, kala namak is actually grayish-purple or pink; don’t confuse it with other black salts. It’s mined around India, and adds a distinct flavor to Indian fare like Jal Jeera, a refreshing drink made with cumin, mint, and lemons. Chowhounds also like it sprinkled on fresh fruit (such as watermelon) or mixed into raita. Its flavor has a sort of boiled-egg note, which comes from sulfurous compounds.

7. Danish Viking-Smoked Sea Salt. There are many varieties of smoked salts out there, but the company that makes this one claims it’s produced using an intriguing, “millennium old” tradition “rekindled” by a Danish man: Seawater is evaporated in an open container over a fire made from oak, beech, cherry, elm, and juniper, which gives the resulting salt a beautiful coppery color and an intense smoky flavor. We also like it because it comes in a sweet package with a bearded Viking on it. Try using it as a dry rub on meat, but be careful, because a little goes a long way. If you don’t want to shell out $25 for three ounces, you can make your own.

8. Hiwa Kai Hawaiian Black Lava Salt. Unlike kala namak, Hawaiian black salt is truly black. It’s made by mixing sea salt with activated volcanic charcoal. Some claim it has detoxifying properties, and though we can’t vouch for that, we can say that it creates a dramatic effect when sprinkled over foods as a finishing salt. We especially like Chowhound wawajb’s idea to use it on the rim of a margarita glass for Halloween. Cyprus black lava salt is made in the same way, only with Mediterranean sea salt.

9. Taha’a Vanilla Finishing Salt. Essentially just sea salt infused with vanilla bean, vanilla salt is fun to use in both savory and sweet applications. We like the flaky versions better than the finer ground ones, because they add a nice crunch and a hint of vanilla when sprinkled onto foods before serving. You can make your own and use it to top dishes like scallops crudo.

10. Gourmet Bamboo Roasted Sea Salt. Popular in Korea, this salt might be sold as jukyom, jook yeom, or Korean bamboo salt. It’s made by packing salt into a piece of bamboo, sealing the ends with mud, and heating the stalk in an extremely hot kiln. The salt’s then transferred into a new bamboo sheath and the process is repeated multiple times, supposedly to purify and enhance the product. There are a lot of claims made about this salt—it’s an ancient Taoist cure-all; it inhibits the growth of cancer cells—but all we can say for sure is that it can be used as a standard table salt. If it ends up having magical healing properties, count that as a bonus.

CHOW’s The Ten column appears every Tuesday.

Roxanne Webber is an associate editor at CHOW.

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