Almost all recipes except ones for desserts (and even a few of those) call for salt and pepper. OK, that seems simple. But if you’ve checked out a gourmet store recently, or even your local grocery, you’ll notice that there are several different types of each. Does it matter which type you use?
Here’s a basic primer on salt and pepper:
Salt – My bottom line is that the type of salt to use depends on the type of food being prepared and personal taste. If a recipe calls for salt but doesn’t specify, it probably calls for common table salt. And if you choose to substitute a different kind for table salt, remember that finely ground salt dissolves more easily than the more coarsely ground types.
“Regular” or common table salt, the kind sold in big cardboard canisters in the grocery store, comes in iodized and non-iodized versions. Iodine is an important nutrient but can be found in lots of other foods (besides salt) in a well-balanced diet http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine/#h3 so if you are getting enough iodine from other sources, you do not need the iodized salt. Table salt is finely ground.
Kosher salt is a coarser grained than table salt. Some cooks prefer it to table salt, believing that kosher salt has a brighter and more pleasing taste. It is lighter than table salt. In other words, a teaspoon of kosher salt is lighter by weight, and tastes less salty, than a teaspoon of regular salt.
Sea salt can be fine or coarsely ground and comes from many different sources. Some people think that sea salt has a more interesting flavor than the other types. Among gourmets, fleur de sel and Celtic or grey salt are often considered among the finest quality culinary salts. It can be used in place of the table or kosher salt, but keep in mind that the coarser the salt, the less easily it dissolves and the more it will take to get the same level of saltiness.
Seasoned salt is a general term for salt with any type of seasoning added. Some seasoned salts have chemical additives and others simply include ground spices or dried vegetables like onions, garlic or mushrooms. Read the label carefully to find out what’s in the seasoned salt you might want to use, both to see if you are comfortable with the added ingredients and to determine if those ingredients fit into the food you are preparing.
There are other types of salt, but I figure that you are not likely to care about pickling or sour salt - or to use them for any recipe you find on this site or most others - so I’ll skip the explanations on those.
If you’re a history buff, check out Salt, by Mark Kurlansky, a history of this important condiment http://www.markkurlansky.com/books/other_non-fiction.aspx .
Pepper – If you have a jar of ground pepper that you bought ages ago or found in a cupboard of an apartment that you sublet, do yourself a favor and throw it away. Go to a hardware store or a chic gourmet place or somewhere in-between and buy a pepper mill, then get yourself some mixed peppercorns and live a little. Freshly ground pepper is one of life’s small pleasures – don’t deny yourself the joy.
“Real” peppercorns come in several types and colors. The most common are black, green, and white. You can purchase all black peppercorns or a combination of peppercorns of various colors.
If you get a medley that includes red and pink ones too, that’s fine, but they aren’t true peppercorns. Instead the red and pink corns come from a different plant, but are commonly referred to as peppercorns and taste like pepper, except a bit lighter.
You can buy peppercorns in grocery, gourmet, hardware and even discount stores such as TJ Maxx and Marshalls. Resist the urge to buy a humongous amount the first time you purchase them. Although they last close to forever as far as I can tell, a small amount will go a long way.
Here are a couple of interesting links about the various types of peppercorns:
Seasoned pepper, such as lemon or garlic pepper, blends pepper with another flavor. There is no set recipe for what seasoned pepper includes, so before you use it, check ingredients and the taste that it will impart to the food.