Lots of diet-restricted friends have asked me what to do when they get stuck in a rut, eating the same foods meal after meal. This can be compounded when you’re on a diet that restricts spices and flavorings, like AIP. I myself have struggled with food boredom, and it’s not fun. In the future I will write a longer post about overcoming food boredom, but for now, I’ll start with the first thing I tell my friends and myself when they come forward with this complaint:
It’s time to go back to basics. Let’s talk about salt.
“But,” you might be thinking, “why basics? The whole problem is that my food plain and boring!” Because, my friend, salt is magical. The right amount of the right salt can completely transform any dish.
Also, salt is easy. I’m imagining you don’t have a bajillion hours every day to cook yourself increasingly involved and exciting food? Otherwise you wouldn’t be here reading this post. Throwing a different kind of salt on your food takes no extra time, but lends lots of extra taste.
So let’s talk about salt! I’m excited!
There are tons of kinds of salt that you can buy, and even more that you can make. By building up your salt arsenal, you can unleash an army of new flavors for any dish, and move past your food boredom without spending more time in the kitchen. I’m going to list some of my favorite salts, compare and contrast them, and give some tips on using them for maximum boredom-busting.
Ah, good old iodized table salt, the kind of salt we all know and love.
Table salt is mined underground, and is heavily processed to remove other trace minerals that may have been found in the rock. Table salt usually contains an additive to prevent the salt from clumping together. Table salt will also contain sugar if it is iodized; the sugar prevents the potassium iodide from oxidizing in your salt, which would remove the beneficial iodine.
Because of its superfine, even grind and neutral flavor, regular table salt is what I most often choose for baked goods, soups, sauces, or any other mixture that I want to have a homogenous flavor and texture. Basically, table salt is good for when I want to make it disappear into other flavors.
However, I encourage you to think beyond the table salt box. The salts below have different flavors and textures, and can add dimension to your dishes.
(Celtic, medium ground)
Sea salt is any salt that has been made by evaporating saltwater, either from the ocean or a saltwater lake. There are as many kinds of sea salt out there as there are bodies of salt water! Sea salts from different regions will have different flavors based on the other minerals in the water where they were produced. Sea salt is also available in a variety of grinds to suit your different needs. These salts don’t often have anti-caking agents like table salt, so like in the picture above, they may be clumpy or feel moist.
A quality sea salt is great for pretty much everything. The one pictured above is a medium ground, which means it will stand out on food without being overpowering. I like using this salt on roasted vegetables, but you can use it almost anywhere.
A coarse-ground sea salt is also an ideal base for making your own flavored salts.
(Himalayan, small ground)
This Himalayan salt was mined at an altitude of 10,000 feet, in Pakistan, at the second largest salt mine in the world (the largest one is in Ontario, Canada). Himalayan salt is pink because of the high concentration of various minerals found in it, particularly iron oxide. This salt’s pretty color makes it a nice salt for presentation, use it on drink rims or in clear salt grinders.
Note that pink salt can also be sea salt from Hawaii, and is colored by iron oxide found in the clay underwater. This salt is also called Alaea salt.
(Hawaiian Lava Salt, coarse ground)
The salt pictured above is Hawaiian black lava sea salt that I bought at Kalyustan’s in New York City. It was harvested from pools formed in hardened lava flows on the Hawaiian islands. This salt is particularly salty-tasting, and also has a faint charcoal taste.
The other kind of edible black salt is an Indian or Himalayan black salt, which is also harvested from volcanic rock. This type of salt is called Kala namak, and contains very high amounts of sulfur, which gives it a pungent smell. If you’re attempting to replicate the flavor of eggs in something (say, not-mayonnaise) this might be a good choice. However, sometimes this salt is heated with various spices to impart new flavors before it is sold. Unless you know what spices were used in the making of your Indian black salt, I would recommend sticking with the Hawaiian variety while on AIP.
Smoked salt is salt that has been smoked with one or more kinds of wood. Different types of wood impart different flavors on salt when they smoke, so it’s fun to try a range of these to see which you like. Based on the type of wood chosen, the temperature, and length of time it was smoked, these salts can taste dark, deep, light, nutty, earthy, sweet, bitter, warm, and a variety of other ways.
Things like barbecue sauce can really benefit from a pinch of smoked salt. These salts make a great addition to dry rubs for meat as well. I will talk about a few different varieties that I like in detail below, but know that there are countless other varieties. You can also make your own if you have a smoker and are feeling extra adventurous!
Hickory Smoked Salt
This smoked salt has a pretty mild flavor, it would pair well with lighter foods like chicken.
Cherrywood Smoked Salt
This is my favorite smoked salt. It’s got a delicious, deep barbecue flavor. It’s great for rubs and as an addition to sauces for pork and meat.
Alder Smoked Salt
(Ground at home into fine grain)
I find the taste of my alder smoked salt to be incredibly strong, and quite bitter. I like using very small amounts of this salt to deepen the flavor of things that already have a strong flavor palette. In particular, I like using this smoke in meat-based slow cooker recipes, since the salt has ample time to impart its smokiness on the meat and mellow out.
I purchased this salt as a coarse ground, but found that since it was so strong, I prefer to have it finely ground. To grind it, I put the salt in my spice grinder and pulsed until it was the texture I desired.
“Pyramid” here refers to the shape of this salt. Also called flaked salt, pyramid salt is sea salt that has been dried slowly on the surface of water to encourage a certain kind of crystallization. The end result is a thin flake of salt shaped like a hollow pyramid.
This is my go-to finishing salt. I love the texture: large enough that you can still get a good crunch of saltiness, but thin enough that it isn’t overpowering. These pyramids are also fragile enough that you can crush them between your fingers as you sprinkle them over roasted vegetables, on your salad, or dust over salted caramels. If you only pick one new kind of salt to try, I highly recommend that you find a nice flaked salt.
Here’s where things really get exciting. It’s incredibly easy—and fun!—to make your own flavored salts. These can be mixed with a variety of herbs and other things to create vibrant flavors that will really pop on food. I’m going to list some of my favorite homemade salt flavors. Because they are so pretty and can be so creative, a small jar of flavored salt also makes a great gift, for recipients with any level of kitchen interest.
Lemon Thyme Salt – great for white fish, vegetables, asparagus, shrimp, summer squash, winter squash
Garlic Salt – great for chicken, roasted broccoli, turnips
Orange Sage Salt – great for white fish, kale, sweet potatoes, roasted carrots, lamb
Cilantro Lime Salt – great for shrimp, salad (yes you should salt your salad!), chicken, turkey
Lavender Vanilla Salt – great for sweet things, coconut milk, white sweet potatoes, beets