We often get asked about the difference between salt flakes and salt crystals? And of course the best answer is always the simplest: Sea salt flakes are actually thin, crystals that look like tiny snowflakes and have very little moisture. They are made with sea water through rapid evaporation under the natural process of sun and wind which leaves a residue of salt brine that is fed into an evaporating pan.
Heating the salt brine in a pan produces a palette of various shapes from light and flaky shavings to thick and coarse pyramidal forms. Because of the quick evaporation process salt flakes have less trace mineral than the coarser rock crystals. Salt flakes also dissolve quickly when sprinkled over moist foods like soup, pasta sauces, grilled steaks or steamed vegetables. But, we also hear that a little sprinkling of salt flakes on top of ice cream or summer fruit is absolutely electrifying. Some names of flake salts that come to mind are Murray River Pink, Fleur de Sel, Cypress and the Maldon gourmet brands.
Murray Pink comes from a river that derives its source from the snowy Australian Alps. The salt flakes are naturally produced from underground saline waters that have been lying dormant for eons. Murray gets its pinkish color from a red pigment of carotene that secretes from the salt algae. Murray River crystals dissolve quickly and evenly, making it ideal to use as a finishing salt for leafy greens like salads, or lightly steamed vegetables.
Fleur de sel, which is French for “flower of salt,” is a hand-harvested sea salt that has garnered a venerable reputation among many famous chefs and food enthusiasts alike for being the premier sea salt. The flower aspect of the name is due to the aroma of violets that develops as the salt crystals are drying in the white marshes of the Guérande Peninsula in France. Great chefs and cooks use fleur de sel as a finishing salt to create a bold and intense flavor, which is ideal for heartier vegetables like squash or eggplant, and grilled meats.
Straight from the Mediterranean Sea on the Island of Cyprus comes the white, pyramidal-shaped crystal flakes. The Cypress flake salt has a delicate texture and a mild taste, which is naturally developed from evaporated sea salt. Cypress flake salt has many uses from baking, seasoning, garnishing, brining and as a finishing salt for gourmet dishes. Cypress flake salt adds a layer of depth when sprinkled across hors d’oeuvres, salads and pastas dishes.
Maldon Crystal Salt is another highly prized gourmet salt that has maintained the traditional method of being hand-harvested for hundreds of years. The England based Maldon Salt Company is one of only four manufacturers still producing salt in England. Their sea salt is highly regarded by health-conscious food enthusiasts and gourmet chefs.
Gourmet flake salts are way better than the common salt any day of the week. Not only does the hand-made sea salt provide a wide range of culinary applications, it tastes better and offers many nutritional benefits. The diversity of mineral deposits brings depth and richness to the flavor which can be any where from buttery to brininess. The moisture content carries the body of the salt giving buoyancy when added to warm moist foods, like soups or sauces.
When cooking with gourmet sea salts, keep in mind a few guidelines: Less is best especially with sea salt crystals; be sure to keep your sea salts properly stored away from heat and moisture; and, last but not least, have fun experimenting with the different gourmet salt flakes available that suit your preference.