By Carie Birkmeier EBS STAFF

Salt, a staple in most kitchens, is a mineral that consists of the elements sodium and chlorine. Essential for human life, most of the world’s salt is harvested from one of two sources—the sea or salt mines.

Salt is arguably one of the most important ingredients in cooking. Add too little and your dish is likely to be bland, but add too much and you will push your dish past the point of no return. Adding the right amount of salt to a dish can bring out the flavors of the main ingredients, so use it wisely. There are several varieties of salt that can and should be used for different purposes. Here are some of the more common ones.

Table salt is highly refined salt, usually consisting of 95-99 percent pure sodium chloride. It is harvested from underground salt deposits and highly refined to remove impurities and other trace minerals. Iodine, a vital nutrient, is almost always added, along with anti-caking agents so that it pours and sprinkles freely.

Table salt isn’t the best option for directly applying on food, but rather for purposes such as salting boiling water or baking. Its fine grain allows for precise measurements and to be more evenly distributed.

Despite its name, kosher salt is not necessarily kosher. Its name comes from its original purpose which was koshering meat. Because its grain size varies, don’t use kosher salt when you need a precise measurement as in baking.

The kosher variety lends itself well to seasoning ingredients, especially meats, as its coarse grain size allows for bursts of flavor to be released. As an added bonus, the large and more slowly dissolving granules allow you to see where and how much you have applied to your food.

Sea salt is exactly what it sounds like—salt that has been harvested from evaporated sea water. It often contains a higher mineral content than other more refined varieties, which comes from the seawater from which it was harvested, giving it a more complex, almost briny flavor. Fleur de sel is a specific type of sea salt that is hand-harvested off the northwest coast of France. These salt crystals rise to the surface and are delicately removed with a very labor intensive and weather sensitive technique. Because of the extensive process, this variety will run you about $20 dollars per pound, which earned it its nickname, “caviar of the sea.”

Among the purest salts in the world, Himalayan pink salt is mined from the Himalaya in Pakistan and has spiked in popularity in recent years. It ranges in color from white to deep pink, and its rich mineral content bestows a more robust flavor than table salt. Its distinct flavor makes it a perfect finishing salt. In addition to pre-ground cooking varieties, Himalayan pink salt is also sold in blocks or slabs that can be heated to high temperatures and used as a cooking surface.

There are countless varieties of specialty salts on the market such as black Hawaiian salt, Celtic sea salt and flake salt. One of my favorite things to do is infuse salt at home, creating a product that packs a surprising punch without the price tag. I have infused salt with a number of items from vanilla, rosemary and lemon to red wine. A quick Google search will provide plenty of ideas for infused salts. The following recipe is for a great and easy-to-make salt to have in your pantry for the next time you make some tacos, fajitas, or margaritas with a salty rim!

Chili lime salt

1 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
1 teaspoon chili flakes

Combine ingredients well in a mason jar. Depending on how coarse you’d like the end product, you can pulverize the ingredients in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle first. Wait three days before using.

Flavor will become less intense with time, but keeps for over a year.