Here’s Why You Should Stop Using Kosher Salt
Last fall over a leisurely brunch at Portland’s Urban Farmer, self-proclaimed “selmelier” (yes, as in salt) said something that shook me—a pretty adept home cook and restaurant groupie—to my culinary core.
“Kosher salt is a blight,” he proclaimed. “I don’t know why we use it.”
You could’ve heard the sitcom-style record scratch as my knife fell onto my plate of honey biscuit and chicken leg, likely topped with you guessed it kosher salt.
The premise against kosher salt is simple: This mass-produced chemical flies directly in the face of the organic ethos we all claim we want to eat and live by. A dedication to thoughtful sourcing and craft has reflected in our meats, vegetables, and grains, but not yet our salt. As the selmelier himself so eloquently told me, “People’s values are not in alignment with their salt.”
The words continued to weigh on me, interspersed with doubt. After all, the merits of kosher salt are trumpeted by chefs and food writers from coast to coast. Is it really all that bad? And perhaps more importantly, is there a worthy alternative?
The problem with kosher salt starts with what it is: a chemical, made by big chemical companies, using chemical processes. “It’s shoehorned into a role in the food space,” the Urban Farmer stated. “We need the chemical sodium chloride, so starting in the mid-1800s, the salt-making universe shifted gears and started to focus on the purest sodium chloride money could buy.”
Kosher salt, such as Diamond Crystal (which is made by Cargill’s chemical division), clocks in at 99.83 percent sodium chloride. By comparison, naturally occurring salts come out anywhere between 95 and 97 percent pure sodium chloride, and very rarely much more.
The main reason most chefs and home cooks use kosher salt is that it’s cheap and readily available. “We have this righteous idea that salt should be just about free, and we’re not realizing that’s because we’re insisting that it be made in the worst possible circumstances, and to the worst possible standards.”
“Salt is the most important ingredient that a chef has,” he explained. “They have to nail their seasoning every time, so kosher salt is their safest gambit.” The bottom line is always looming in a kitchen setting, so most chefs have continued their reliance on kosher salt due to its economic benefits and the consistency it offers.
“There are so many things that need to happen before you replace kosher salt,” Amber Lancaster, the executive chef at Sable in Chicago, says. “If kosher salt is doing the thing it’s doing at the cost I need it to, I can’t say I’d ever think that was a cost worth doing.”
At the end of the day, we have to worry about dollar signs. Only a few select people could probably do that. Running a steakhouse means the salt usage is extraordinarily high and that much of the salt used ends up brushed away into a sheet pan or dissolved in a brine.
Kosher salt is a love-hate relationship with other chefs. It was the salt de rigueur. It was everywhere. Everybody used it.
Kosher salt can be more of a detriment in the kitchen in more ways than just the way it’s produced. Its coarser grain means it doesn’t dissolve as quickly, so you end up aggressively salting a dish before the flavor is evenly dispersed.
What do we use instead? One commonly available option is any French sea salt that’s gray, like sel gris or a coarse natural French sea salt. The French are they great salt makers and they’ve been around the longest in America and most parts of the world. Their standards are beyond the best and it’s a gorgeous place to make salt.
The restaurant industry isn’t going to change overnight, but more chefs and home cooks will come to see that the benefits of using thoughtfully sourced, artisanal salts, even in large-scale applications, outweigh the negatives.
If you are what you eat, what you eat is who makes it. A farmer makes your vegetables, but K+S and Mitsubishi and Cargill make your salt.
Think about this next time you need to buy salt. I have not cooked with Kosher Salt in a long time, as I don’t like the taste of it. Now I know why!