What kind of Salt are you shaking?


One of the advantages of living in Europe is access to affordable Fleur de Sel, the revered French finishing salt found off the coasts of Brittany.  Not only does it make everything it comes in contact with taste better, its name – unlike the ordinary Table Salt - encourages you to season with a flourish.  

Salt has often been used as a metaphor for words we speak.   It got me thinking about all the different types of salts and how they, like words, have the ability to enhance or bring out the best when used in the right context.   They say women speak close to 20,000 words in a day in contrast to a man’s 7,000.  I don’t know what they say about American women living in a French speaking country, but I do know that word count takes a massive hit.  Either I’m delivering fewer but more potent words, developing my masculine sensibilities or simply creating space in my head to think about things like Salt.  It’s still early in the day, and already I’ve launched some careless, gossipy and impatient words so the former can’t possibly be true. 

Yet, as I study and learn more about the many Salt options that line my counter – all of which flavor whatever it touches – like words, we can all use different salts for different purposes to create a salty pleasure or a salty disaster.  None of us want to intentionally ruin a dish because we weren't paying attention to our salt shaker.  

First, let’s just agree to table Table Salt.  It’s not interesting as a flavor enhancer, and because it’s laced with additives it conjures up the disingenuous words we parrot, or use to embellish or hide what we really want to say.  It’s the words we say for an audience, but would have a harder time saying to a mirror.  Sadly, it’s the blather we hear when most politicians speak.

Chunks of Rock Salt, while not suitable for cooking, serves a specific function in ice cream machines and as a chilly bed for oysters on the half shell.  It’s those words we use only in specific situations that demand it.  These are not words that enhance as much as they are words that help lower the temperature or preserve safety.   It’s the “Look Both Ways” command we give our children.

Kosher Salt is used in all kinds of cooking as it dissolves quickly; its coarse crystals applied in rough pinches rather than precise measurements.  It’s like small talk – the words without staying power, the ones that don’t have to be measured.  It's permissible gab that can be flung far and wide.  Kosher Salt is also used (in abundance) for curing meats, but then rinsed off before cookery begins much like the permeability of mindless chatter of talking too much or about nothing at all. 

Sea Salt, the dancing partner of caramel and chocolate and anything in need of a burst of flavor, is most often used not during cooking but after.  Like the words we speak - context matters.  A word said in haste, before the thought was fully baked, loses its impact for pungency.  Sea salt comes in various textures and irregular sizes depending on its mineral makeup.  Our words too can be coarsely delivered or spoken with fine precision, and what we say won’t always be consistent.   But the beauty of Sea Salt is that it’s naturally occurring impurities can add a subtlety to a dish that may not be repeatable just like the arcs of our words in unexpected conversations.

Then there are the infused Sea Salts.  Lemon Salt, Rosemary Salt, Truffle Salt and a hundred other combinations you didn’t think possible.  Perhaps those lovely embellishments of citrus and herbs are the gestures of attentiveness we do as we speak, or acts of kindness that follow up to what we say.  Or, maybe when a combination is unsavory or imbalanced it’s like body language that doesn’t match our words, or when a flavor like truffle overpowers everyone in a room.

Some salts, like Sea Salt Flakes, are best enjoyed when you release the flavor by crushing the crystals between your fingertips.  Likewise, some of our words need to be massaged first in order for them to add the right flavor note.  An uncrushed Sea Salt Flake might be rendered tasteless, or worse leave a bitter after taste, when a slight adjustment could have made the difference between a word falling on deaf ears, or hostile ones. 

Concentrated Pickling Salts, made of 100% sodium chloride and not fortified with iodine, release their flavor over time, turning cucumbers into pickles and radishes into something almost edible.  These are the words we speak with a bite because they are true; the unfiltered words that can sweeten or sour for months under a tightly capped lid.   These are the words whose trajectory we may never know.

Finally, Fleur de Sel, the special occasion salt fit for a beautiful jar, the Caviar of all salts which has spawned a new industry of Finishing Salts like it.   The unevenness of the crystals which are harvested by hand which "bloom" with just the right mix of sun and wind means it lingers in your mouth – the smaller crystals dissolving first, making way for the larger crystals to then melt and follow with a punch of their own.  The resulting bite tasty, multifaceted, yet wonderfully balanced.  It’s the words we say that linger because they were spoken with thought and care.  It’s about allowing our unique experiences of growth from the sun and tumult from the wind to shape what we say into something real, maybe even vulnerable.  It’s about leaving room for a pause.  It’s the words of genuine interest or well-timed encouragement that travel from ear to heart, lifting that which was ordinary into something special.   But it doesn’t have to only be a special occasion salt.  It could be our everyday salt - because a little bit can go a long way.

“Let your conversations be always full of grace, seasoned with salt.”

(Note: I got some info on the types and tips for using salts from this Real Simple article.)