During a recent family trip to Turks and Caicos, a guide brought us past a salt farm on the South Caicos Island. I was intrigued. Was this really where my table salt was made? I had never thought much about salt, but I felt inspired to learn more. When we got back to our resort for dinner, our waiter handed us a tray of salt made on the island to have with bread and butter. This was by far the best and most flavorful salt I had ever tried. There was a whole world of flavor I had never known, right at my fingertips—literally.

The experience led me to do some research into how salt is made and where in the world various types of salt come from.

How is salt made?

Today, there are two main ways that salt is produced. One is through evaporation from sea water, and the other is mining salt that exists in deposits beneath the earth's surface. Most common table salts are made through the mining method, but gourmet salts (like the one I had in South Caicos) are made through evaporation.

Evaporation Method

When producing salt on a commercial scale through this method, sea water is collected in large, interlocking "ponds," where sun and wind create accelerated evaporation. Salt then concentrates in the water, eventually crystallizing so that it can be harvested, rinsed and packaged. This type of manufacturing can only take place in locations with low rainfall, so that there is enough time for the water to evaporate. The only solar sea salt production facility of this sort in the United States is located in the San Francisco Bay area.  

Mining Method

In the rocky under layers of the earth, salt exists naturally. The reason for its presence is because of ancient underground waterways that have since dried up or become buried through tectonic changes in the earth's crust. Rock salt is gathered through mining with dynamite, and then crushed and used for industrial purposes (such as melting snow on roadways). It's a similar mining practice to the one used for extracting coal or iron ore, and it is concentrated in areas near Detroit.  

Table salt, however, is collected through hydraulic or solution mining, which involves pumping water into the ground. This breaks down salt deposits and creates brine (a liquid consisting of salt), which is then brought to the surface and evaporated. That product is then purified to remove other mineral content, and certain chemicals are often added to prevent salt pieces from sticking together. The final result is the salt that sits on your dinner table and is used in everyday cooking.

10 Types of Salt

You may have thought that salt is just that: salt. But there are dozens of types and sub-types of salt. Each kind is found in a unique part of the world and processed in its own way, giving it a distinct taste that makes it perfect for one usage or another. Here are just 10 of the many types:

1. Table Salt

This is the refined salt from hydraulic mining described above. It's the most common type in restaurants and households, used frequently for cooking and flavoring.

2. Kosher Salt

Jennifer Elias

Kosher salt is the coarse, grainy salt also found commonly in super markets for home use. Kosher salt, however, is a misleading name because without any additives, all salt is kosher (it's simply a mineral). Interestingly, the name "kosher" comes from the salt's original purpose: to kosher meat, or to remove the blood from meat. So a better name for it would actually be "koshering salt." 

3. Sel Gris

Sel Gris, or "grey salt," gets its grey color from being harvested from clay-lined ponds. Its strong structure makes it perfect for use in stews and to braise meat.

4. Gros Sel

Gros Sel or "large salt" is another French artisanal sea salt. Like the name implies, it consists of large salt pieces. It's often used to create a salt crust on meat or fish or to season pasta water.

5. Flake Sea Salt

Flake sea salt has a distinctly briny flavor. The most popular brand, Maldon, makes salt flakes by boiling sea water and then removing any excess minerals, making the final result distinctly clean and white.

6. Fleur De Sel

Literally "flower of salt," Fleur de Sel is one of the most treasured gourmet salts, produced almost exclusively in France. The salt is hand-harvested, leaving the salt crystals intact and adding a distinctly crunchy texture. 

7. Hawaiian Sea Salt

Produced exclusively in Hawaii (hence the name), this salt is traditionally red. It's made by mixing sea salt with alaea, an iron-rich volcanic clay. The salt may also be called "Alaea Hawaiian Sea Salt" and is known among chefs for its mellow, earthy flavor. In Hawaii, it's been used throughout history for certain medicinal healing rituals, as well as native poke and Kalua Pig dishes. 

8. Smoked Salt

Slow-smoked over a wood fire, this salt is infused with a smoky, rich flavor. It is typically used to season meat and hearty foods like potatoes or roasted vegetables.

9. Pickling Salt

This type of salt is used specifically for brining pickles and sauerkraut. Unlike table salt, it isn't fortified with iodine and doesn't contain any anti-caking chemicals, which would turn pickled vegetables a strange color. It's highly concentrated and totally pure salt, making it perfect for creating tangy, flavorful pickles. 

10. Himalayan Pink Salt

A type of rock salt, Himalayan pink salt is known for its high mineral content: it contains 83 minerals in addition to the sodium found in all salts (including iron, magnesium, phosphorous and calcium, to name a few). Some also claim that the rose-pink salt can act as a detoxifier if you dissolve it in warm water and take a salty bath. 

Next time I go to the grocery store, I am definitely taking a closer look at the spice aisle in search for some of these unique varieties of salt. Even the slightest variation in the mineral content or production process of salt can develop a specific flavor that simply transforms a dish—as I learned well on my recent island vacation.