My friend Carol called the other day. She’d made pesto using a reliable recipe from a reliable cookbook, but it tasted overhwhelmingly salty.
What type of salt did you use?
I don’t know. Sea salt I think. Does it matter?
As a matter of fact, it does. As Edward Schneider explains in his New York Times Diner’s Journal post, Warning: Measure Your Salt, the way a salt is produced affects its weight. In the same volume (e.g., 1 teaspoon), a heavier salt will contain more sodium, making it saltier.
How to Measure Salt
When he got out his scale, Schneider found that a cup of Maldon salt weighed just 120 grams, while the same amount of table salt came in at 300 grams. In other words, the same volume of table salt is 2.5 times saltier than Maldon. Since Maldon salt is typically sprinkled on at the finish to highlight its light, flaky texture, we don’t need to worry about it in recipes.
Of the salts commonly used in cooking and baking, table salt (the finest) is approximately 1.2 times heavier by volume (i.e., saltier) than Morton’s kosher, 1.4 times saltier than coarse sea salt, and more than twice as salty (2.2 times) as Diamond Crystal.
Between the two brands of kosher salt, Morton’s is 1.85 times saltier than Diamond Crystal. In other words, it is more similar to table salt than to the other kosher salt.
It’s no wonder Carol’s pesto was so salty. Turns out she was using Morton’s kosher; I’m guessing the recipe was tested with Diamond Crystal.
Recipes are commonly developed using table, fine sea, or kosher salt. If the recipe does not specify the type–or specifies kosher salt but not the brand–how can you know how much to use?
What To Do?
Here are my guidelines.
When making something where exact quantities matter, such as a brine for preserving, weigh your salt. You can’t go wrong that way: equal weight means equal saltiness, no matter the type.
If you don’t have a kitchen scale , do the math and substitute the exact equavalent for whatever the recipe specifies. (But really, get a scale already! They aren’t terribly expensive.)
For all other recipes, this guideline should serve you well:
- In a recipe calling for a specific type, start with half the salt called for if using anything other than Diamond Crystal kosher and add more to taste. (If using Diamond Crystal you should be safe starting with the amount in the recipe.)
- In a recipe calling for table salt or Morton’s kosher, use the amount in the recipe unless you are using Diamond Crystal, in which case use just shy of double the amount.
- In a recipe calling for Diamond Crystal kosher, use half the amount of any other salt.
May all your food be salted just right.