What's the Deal with Flavored Sea Salts?

By Barb Freda

As if salt wasn’t pumping up the volume of your food enough these days, along come flavored and smoked salts to really add some punch to your meals. At restaurants across the country salt cellars and shakers are being filled with these savory delights.

We're here to tell you that this trend can be enjoyed without a trip out to dinner. Many of the flavors chefs are serving up are also available online or at specialty food shops in your neighborhood. But should you bother? What is all the fuss about? And if you want flavored salt can’t you just add the spices yourself?

Well, yes and no, according to Mark Bitterman, "selmelier" (salt expert) and co-owner, with his wife, Jennifer, of The Meadow in Portland, Oregon, where they sell salt, chocolate, wine and flowers. (Nice life.)

"We have a specific number that are valid—flavored salts that can achieve something" that you cannot accomplish otherwise. His first example: truffle salt. "It’s got a beautiful aroma and truffle flavor and gives access to that flavor without the investment (in real truffles) and without worrying about spoilage." Truffle salt's a way to enjoy the taste for less.

Saffron salt is another example. "This is neat because saffron is so potent. Take sea bass with saffron, a classic dish, but the saffron can overwhelm the sea bass. Here, you can sprinkle on (the flavor) grain by grain, metering out the flavor."

Smoked salts are another. "A beautiful way to use salt. The smoke is aromatic. If you finish with a smoked salt, you get those aromatics." Bitterman loves salts from delicate to robust: Halen Mon Gold is a delicate Welsh sea salt with an oak smoke flavor. For a robust taste, he mentions red alder smoked salt, a Pacific salt flavored with alder wood smoke that can, he notes, be pretty in-your-face with the smoke. He can’t resist mentioning one of his favorites, either, the rare Iburi-Jio from Japan, a fine-crystal salt flavored with cherrywood smoke.

The Meadow stocks more than 50 types of salt and Bitterman is an enthusiastic coach on how to enhance meals with judicious use of every one of those salts (more and more gourmet grocers are stocking a few varieties these days, too). Starter kits let you sample a few of the favorites right away. Specialty site Saltistry also offers a wide variety of flavored salts. So go ahead, get a little salty!

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