Can anyone blame us for loving salt? This little mineral has a major role to play in food, amping up flavor, enhancing texture, and even extending shelf life. Recently, specific types (looking at you, Celtic salt and Himalayan pink salt) have even risen to TikTok fame as ingredients for DIY electrolyte drinks.
With more than one salt becoming a trending topic these days, it’s a good idea to know what sets different salts apart from one another. Here’s what culinary dietitians had to say.
- ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Julie Andrews, M.S., R.D., F.A.N.D., is a dietitian, chef, and the creator of The Healthy Epicurean. Laura Ali, M.S., R.D.N., is a culinary nutritionist based in Pittsburgh.
Despite its name, Celtic salt doesn’t hail from the Emerald Isle. Rather, it’s harvested on the northern coast of France. Dietitian and chef Julie Andrews, M.S., R.D., F.A.N.D., of The Healthy Epicurean, says Celtic salt can be used in general cooking, but is often better as a finishing salt (i.e. sprinkled atop foods as a finishing touch) because of its large crystals.
Celtic salt has recently taken off as a social media trend, with folks claiming that it’s loaded with magnesium and other minerals, working miracles like curing insomnia and reducing blood pressure. Thousands of videos also feature Celtic sea salt in homemade sports drinks. (The idea goes that its extra minerals allow water to better permeate the cells.)
But experts say to take the claims with, well, a grain of salt. “Despite the hype, using these specialty salts to make your own hydration drink really won’t make that much of a difference,” says Laura Ali, M.S., R.D.N., a culinary nutritionist based in Pittsburgh. “In addition to sodium, these salts do contain a small amount of minerals and electrolytes. However, the amount is negligible, and that little bit won’t help with hydration.” So just don’t expect any miracles.
Himalayan Pink Salt
Much like Celtic salt, Himalayan pink salt has been having a (pretty long) moment. Its rock candy look and pretty pink color definitely add to its appeal. Andrews says Himalayan pink salt can be used in any cooking application in which you’d use table salt, but it may not impart the flavor your taste buds expect. “Because it has a different mineral composition than other salts, it also has a slightly different flavor,” she says. “It just comes down to if you want to spend the extra money for it and enjoy the flavor of it.”
As for health benefits, Himalayan pink salt is said to be loaded with minerals (84 of them, to be exact), which has contributed to its cult following. Still, in the amounts used in regular cooking and eating, it isn’t likely to make a major difference for your health, according to Ali. “Proponents suggest some of these unrefined specialty salts are better for you because they have more minerals, but, in reality, the amount those ‘extra’ nutrients contribute to your overall diet is negligible,” she says.
Both Celtic and Himalayan salts are considered sea salts, but they’re not the only ones. There’s also fleur de sel, red Hawaiian salt, flake salt, and smoked salt, to name a few. The common thread: Sea salts are gathered from evaporated seawater and are recognized for their more potent flavors and higher quantities of minerals. Sea salt is less processed than table salt, so it’s a smart option if you’d like to keep your diet as unprocessed as possible.
Ali says that salts from the sea may also contain less sodium than regular table salt—a definite bonus for health. “Swapping one of these salts in a recipe in place of regular table salt may help lower the amount of sodium you consume. Just keep in mind that the lower sodium content is due to the size of the salt particle, not because it contains less sodium by weight.” In other words, sea salt may provide less sodium by volume because fewer crystals fit in a measuring spoon. If you feel sea salt doesn’t make your food flavorful enough, you might negate your low-sodium efforts by adding more and more, so keep tabs on how much you use.
Table salt is the Old Reliable of everyday meal prep. (You’ve probably got some in your pantry right now!) In baking, sautéing, roasting, and more, this salt does the trick of enhancing foods’ flavor. Another plus: It’s cheap, with many canisters costing under a dollar. That said, some folks take issue with its taste. “It has a bit of a bitter aftertaste, so many cooks don’t prefer to use it in their cooking,” says Andrews.
A simple chemical combo of sodium and chloride creates this staple, but most table salt also has the advantage of added iodine (which is responsible for the somewhat bitter flavor). This mineral has fortified salt since the 1920s, when it was lacking in the American diet. (Even today, many pregnant women continue to be iodine deficient). Beyond this, though, you won’t find any special health perks from a sprinkle of table salt.
For a super-versatile salt that works well in everything from meats to cakes, go kosher. According to Andrews, kosher salt can be used in all cooking and baking applications. (She does note, though, that its large crystals take up more space than those of regular table salt, which may affect how much you use.)
Unlike sea salts or table salt, kosher salt is typically pure NaCl (a.k.a. sodium chloride), with no added iodine or lingering minerals. This gives it a clean, pure flavor with no aftertaste, Andrews says. In short, it’s great for flavor but nothing special for health.
How Salt Impacts Your Health
As delicious as various salts may be, they’re still an ingredient to use in moderation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommend healthy people limit daily sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day. (For reference, that’s about one teaspoon.) Going overboard with the shaker can lead to health problems, no matter which type of salt you choose.
“Too much sodium may increase your risk for developing high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and strokes,” says Ali. “A high-sodium diet may also contribute to calcium loss from bones and may contribute to an increased risk of developing kidney stones and kidney disease.”
That said, the body does actually need sodium to function properly, as the mineral helps maintain muscle health and keep fluids balanced. And since most sodium in the average American diet comes from highly processed foods and we lose it through sweat, certain groups of people—including athletes, healthy keto eaters, and those with certain medical conditions—may actually need more salt for optimal health and wellbeing.
Since the differences in health benefits are marginal between various salts, finding the right variety mostly comes down to flavor and culinary applications (or, in the case of Himalayan salt, a fun color). Whether you’re an avid chef or kitchen newbie, try experimenting to see which one spices up your home cooking the most. And if you’re shopping for a hydration supplement, don’t sweat about where it gets its salt from; all varieties get the job done.