All About Sea Salt, Artisan Salts, and Other Finishing Salts

What's the deal with fancy salt? What is it used for? What's the difference between sea salt and other kinds of artisan finishing salts? Get the answers to all these questions in this handy guide!

Looking down into four glass jars filled with pink Himalayan sea salt, smoked salt, sel de gris and Maldon salt
Alison Bickel

For the most part, fancy sea salts and artisan salts are used as "finishing salts." This just means that instead of measuring them into cakes or stirring them into soups like we do with table salt or kosher salt, we sprinkle them over our finished dishes for one last burst of salty goodness before digging in. They add a crunchy texture and a zing of salty flavor with every bite.

Read on for more details sea salt and artisan salt, and a few examples of each!

Jars and bowls of kosher salt, Himalyan salt, and smoked salt
Alison Bickel

What Is Sea Salt?

What we think of as sea salt is typically evaporated from seawater. The crystals can be fine or coarse, moist or dry. They can also range in color from translucent white to grey!

Below are some of the most common kinds of sea salts:

Fleur de Sel

Fleur de Sel is a category of sea salt, not a salt from any one location. Fleur de sel is French for “Flower of Salt” referring to the fine, irregular crystals that form on the surface of pans of salt water evaporating in the sun. Producers use rakes to collect those crystals, which often contain some residual moisture.

The varied size of fleur de sel crystals means some dissolve faster than others in the mouth, offering overlapping layers of saltiness when you eat. For this reason, it’s ideal for sprinkling over food just before serving.

Flaky sea salt in bowl with small wooden spoon
Alison Bickel

Flake Salt

Flake salt forms on solar or fire evaporated saline bodies. It has flaky or pyramidal structures that are among the most delicate of fancy salts. Its saltiness is crisp and fleeting. It’s great on salads, fresh vegetables, and fish. Maldon sea salt is one of the best-known flake salts.

Sel Gris

Sel Gris is collected from the bottom of pools of solar evaporated saline water. It is coarser than fleur de sel, but likewise moist. Its burlier crystals are better suited for robust foods, like steaks and sturdy vegetables. Ground, it makes a good all-purpose seasoning salt.

Fine Sea Salt

These days, you can often find something called "fine sea salt" sold in stores. This is sea salt that has been ground to the fineness of regular table salt. It can be used just like table salt for all baking and cooking purposes.

Himalayan sea salt in jar spilled on counter tip with copper lid
Alison Bickel

What Is an Artisan Salt?

We have a few notable salts that don't come from coastal saltwater. We're including them because if you're interested in sea salt, you're likely curious about these, too. This category we'll call "artisan salts."

Rock Salt

Rock salt is mined, then ground. Its coarseness can vary greatly, and unlike many evaporated salts, it has no moisture. A fine example is Himalayan pink salt, used to make those groovy decorative salt lamps as well as polished blocks to use as cooking surfaces.

You can also get finely ground Himalayan pink salt. It’s mined in northern Pakistan from rocks that are up to 500 million years old. The blushing pink tint comes from naturally occurring traces of minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and iron. It, too, is a fine all-purpose seasoning salt.

Jars of salt sel de gris, smoked salt, pink himalyan sea salt and white flaky sea salt
Alison Bickel

Smoked Salt

This is salt that’s been smoked over hardwood. It’s great to use as a finishing salt any time you’d like a smoky taste, or to season soups or vegetables you’d like to have a touch of smoke (I add it to braised greens for a vegetarian-friendly bacon vibe).

Seasoned or Infused Salts

Seasoned or infused salts are salts blended with other spices, herbs, or aromatics to create a convenient seasoning. This can be as mainstream as Lawry’s and as out-there as truffle salt (great on French fries!) or matcha green tea salt.

Put Your Salt to Work!

Try sprinkling some sea salt or artisan salt over any of these recipes for a salty crunch: