I am a lover of anything "salty-sweet" or made with a flavored, coarse, unrefined sea salt. But, what EXACTLY does salt do to your chocolate chip cookies, chiffon cake, or lemon-blueberry muffins? Salt has many functions, actions, and reactions in the baking and culinary field.
First off, salt naturally adds and enhances flavor to sweet and savory dishes. It is a necessary and key ingredient in the kitchen, no matter what your kitchen skills. It is staple to have a salt jar right next to your cooking range.
Salt has many purposes in cooking, here are the top THREE reasons:
1) Enhance flavor!
No matter what you are cooking, it balances and enhances the food you are preparing. Pre-package foods contain LOTS, AND LOTS of sodium due to the lack of natural flavor and to have a longer shelf life than non-packaged foods.
Pro tip: Slowly add salt when cooking, taste, and add more if needed. You can always add, you cannot always subtract.
2) Strengthen gluten strands!
Salt naturally helps gluten strands become nice 'n' strong to create a solid structure for your baked good. What is gluten anyway? Simply put, gluten are the proteins found in wheat. Gluten is key especially in breads, everyday pastries, cereals, and pastas. Forgot your salt when you are baking bread? The dough will become very "slack" and "wet."
3) Give color!
Salt aids in browning. It gives crossiants, breads, and muffins a nice, golden color. Forgot your salt? Your sweet treats and bread will come out a bit pale.
Pro tip: I like to add a pinch of salt when I am making egg wash for my morning pasteries.
TWO MOST POPULAR SALTS ON THE MARKET:
1) Kosher: A coarse salt, perfect for "every day" cooking. I like using kosher salt when I am brining, salting water for rice/potatoes, and roasting proteins. Kosher refers to grain size or Kosher-certified. Almost all Kosher salt in the grocery store refers to grain size.
3) Sea salt: Yes, salt from the sea. The "most pure" salt flavor you have. Go for "unrefined" sea salt and use it when "finishing" a dish. Example: A few pinches on your grilled steak, seared salmon, in your homemade balsamic dressing, or quinoa, it adds flavor without adding a calories or fat. Many gourmet shops are now carrying flavored sea salts to cater to your homemade meals and tastes.
Just need one? Go for fine grain sea salt and add more to your collection in your future.
What is the most important tip about salt I can give you? NEVER forget it! Salt to cooking and baking, is like breathing: we need it to make our foods delicious and delightful. Avoid pre-packaged foods, which are drowned in sodium, and cooking your own veggies and meals with your favorite salt.