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Kosher Salt, Sea Salt, Iodized Salt: Which Is Healthiest?

February 28, 2024

Any cook knows that salt is key to good food. Not only does it add saltiness, it also enhances whatever flavors are in the food. It seems simple enough, but when you go to pick up salt at the grocery store, there are so many choices. Kosher salt, sea salt, iodized salt – they’re all salt, of course, but they don’t function the same way, and they aren’t interchangeable in recipes. So, which salt is healthiest? Let’s dive into all the different types, their health implications, and how to cook with them.

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Along with flavor, salt’s main mineral component, sodium, provides an important nutritional function to the body. “Sodium enhances the taste of the food” by interacting with the salt receptors on the tongue and amplifying the perception of other flavors in your meal, making it more enjoyable, says Catherine Gervacio, RND and certified exercise nutrition coach with the E-Health Project. “On the nutrition side, the body needs sodium to maintain fluid balance, muscle contraction, and nerve function.”

Understanding sodium

Though sodium is key to several vital functions in the body, it’s important to pay attention to how much we’re getting. “Too much sodium may result in high blood pressure, stroke or heart disease,” says Gervacio. Because everyone’s tolerance and needs are different, consult with your health care provider to understand your individual needs. Too little sodium intake can be equally problematic.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2300 mg of sodium daily for adults; for some, “limiting it further to 1500 mg per day promotes heart health and improved blood pressure,” Gervacio says. It’s important to note that, aside from the salt we use to season our food, we have to factor in how much sodium is in the pre-packaged foods or restaurant dishes we eat. 

When it comes to figuring out which salt is healthiest, it’s helpful to understand how the various types differ based on the way they’re harvested, manufactured, or processed. 

Properties of kosher salt

According to SaltWorks, the largest sea salt producing company in the U.S., “all salt comes from the sea, whether harvested from seawater or surface mines.” Kosher salt doesn’t have anything added to it such as anti-caking additives or iodine. It’s typically mined from land-based salt deposits, which contributes to its consistently white color. It’s typically coarser in texture than basic table salt, and contains about 310 mg of sodium per ¼ teaspoon by volume.

Not only does kosher salt have the lowest sodium content by weight, but is often favored by chefs for its consistency, and is recommended for many cooking applications. “Kosher salt adheres to the food really nicely,” says Melanie Underwood, chef and founder of the Yonkers, N.Y.-based cooking school Gather Culinary. “It doesn’t dissipate quickly, and it tastes good,” especially since it’s free of additives. 

Plus, “because it’s larger and people can see it, it’s easier for them to control and they don’t tend to over salt,” Underwood adds.

Properties of sea salt

Sea salt is considered the least processed version of salt. While all salt originates in the sea, sea salt is harvested directly from evaporated sea water. Depending on where and how it’s harvested, it can have varying textures, flake sizes, and colors; think pink and flaky Himalayan sea salt versus gray and tender fleur de sel

Some sea salt is packaged in grinders, which also plays a role in both its seasoning function and sodium by volume. Since sea salt has so many variables, its sodium content is a little more difficult to quantify. As a general guide, fine sea salt contains about 500 mg per ¼ teaspoon.

In terms of its main culinary uses, “I primarily use it in baking, because it dissolves a little bit faster than kosher salt,” which leads to more evenly and consistently seasoned baked goods, Underwood says. 

Sea salt also can have a nice flavor and texture unto itself, as well as its use in amplifying other flavors, so it works well as a finishing salt. “I’ll also sometimes finish off a salad with sea salt,” Underwood notes.

Properties of iodized salt

Iodized salt, or table salt, contains small amounts of iodine, a micronutrient mineral that has an important function in the body. “Iodine is an important mineral for thyroid function,” which is responsible for producing hormones linked to brain development, says Gervacio. “People living in areas that don’t have access to iodine-rich foods may need supplementation as they are at risk of iodine deficiency.”

Iodized salt can be tricky to work with because it has the finest grain of any salt. “It’s a lot saltier,” says Underwood. “Because of the smaller surface area, it dissolves a lot more quickly.”  

Iodized salt is also highly processed, with other minerals stripped out, and anti-caking agents added. Not only does it have a less pure taste than either kosher salt or sea salt, its smaller grain means it also has a higher sodium content when measured by volume. One-quarter teaspoon has 590 mg of sodium, nearly twice the amount of the same volume as kosher salt, and nearly 100 mg more than fine sea salt.

For those needing to add iodine to their diet, “Other iodine-rich foods include seafood, dairy products, and eggs,” Gervacio says.

Which salt is healthiest?

There isn’t a hard and fast answer to this question, as it depends on your individual needs as well as your cooking habits. It’s also important to keep in mind that you can stock more than one type in your kitchen. Use fine sea salt for baking, finishing, and seasoning individual items at the table (such as a pinch on some scrambled eggs). Reach for kosher salt for seasoning vegetables before roasting or meat, chicken, or fish before cooking. Experiment to see what works best for you.

Read next: 5 Drinks High in Magnesium, Say Dietitians

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