Description: Other names: sal del mar, sel de mer, sale marino. Sea salt generally refers to unrefined salt derived directly from a living ocean or sea. It is harvested through channeling ocean water into large clay trays and allowing the sun and wind to evaporate it naturally. Manufacturers of sea salt usually do not refine sea salt as much as other kinds of salt, so it still contains traces of other minerals, including iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc and iodine. It typically has a bright, pure, clean flavor, and subtleties of the other trace minerals. Some of the most common sources for sea salt include the Mediterranean Sea, the North Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean (particularly in France, on the coast of Brittany).

Table salt, by contrast, is mined rock salt which has been heavily refined, removing the minerals. It usually contains anti-clumping additives, as well as preservatives, and iodine. Iodine started being added at a time when people were not getting enough in their diets, and salt was thought to be an easy way to ensure adequate intake. Kelp is a great alternative source of iodine.

What to look for: Organic, unrefined sea salt with no additives; specialty salts such as Celtic or French Grey, Hawaiian, Maine, and Italian sea salts. It is available in various textures: coarse, fine & extra fine grain, depending on the use.

Uses: A cornerstone of life, integral in any kitchen, and also used medicinally. Culinary-wise, salt brings out flavors in food, is a preservative, and draws out liquids. Health-wise, salt is an essential element in the body, necessary for regulating many functions. The body cannot manufacture salt, so it must be ingested; it uses only as much as it needs, and excretes the rest through the kidneys.

Where to find: Natural food stores, specialty food shops, online resources.

Avoid: Refined table salts, which are lacking in minerals and contain additives.