Kosher salt is a staple in recipes and many a kitchen pantry. But what is it? And what makes it kosher?
In pondering the meaning of salt (and life), we reached out to the ultimate craft salt man, Mark Bitterman. He's the selmelier and CEO of New York City salt shop The Meadow and Bitterman Salt Co., so who better to break it down for us once and for all? As it turns out, kosher (or koshering) salt was given its name for what it does, not what it is.
What makes salt kosher salt?
"All salt is kosher, unless you do something UN-kosher with it like mix it with bacon or shrimp, or grind it in machinery used to mill wheat. Some salt is certified kosher for passover, which means that the producer has paid for the approval of rabbi from a certifying organization to come by and inspect for the absence of anything that might make it treif (un-kosher)."
So, is all kosher salt #blessed?
"They don’t bless the salt or any such thing. It’s all about kashrut, the Jewish laws governing what can and cannot be eaten for religious reasons. Kosher certification does not concern itself with wholesomeness. Highly processed, unhealthy foods can be kosher, and entirely natural, wholesome food can be treif."
Ah, OK. So then what does kosher salt do?
"With the advent of the modern chemical industry, when natural salts began to be displaced by refined salts, kosher salt was invented as a koshering salt, meaning a salt that is used to draw out blood from meat to make it kosher. Kosher salt is a desiccating agent."
And what does that mean today?
"Today the term kosher salt is used to mean a cheap, slightly flakey salt that is coarse enough that you can pinch it with your fingers. To make it, salt brine is chemically refined to pure sodium chloride, then boiled off using a bunch of fossil fuels until it crystalizes. The result is a uniform, about 100 percent pure sodium-chloride chemical."
There you have it, folks. When it comes to being kosher in religious terms, there's no real difference between the many variations of salt sold in supermarkets (unless the packaging says otherwise), and kosher salt isn't blessed by a rabbi. It's really just a matter of preference (chefs prefer the thick grains because they're easier to handle), but if the idea of consuming chemicals gives you the creeps, there are plenty of natural salt options available out there, too.
Clarification: A previous version of this story stated there's no difference between the many variations of salt. This has been corrected to clarify that there's no difference in terms of being religiously kosher.