When it comes to popular finishing salts, most would agree that both Himalayan salt and fleur de sel are among the most prized. Both can provide a salt flavor equally well, but there is usually more to finishing salts than flavor. If you are trying to choose between these two salts or just want to learn more about them, let’s break it all down in another SPICEography Showdown.
How does the flavor of Himalayan salt differ from that of fleur de sel?
The most obvious difference in flavor has to do with the sources of these salts. While both consist mostly of sodium chloride, Himalayan salt is a pink salt from the Himalayan mountains. The pigment is the residue from bacteria in evaporated ancient seas that once contained the salt. The bacteria leaves minerals behind that can add subtle notes to the salt’s taste.
Himalayan salt is mined, which is why it has larger crystals when compared to fleur de sel. The larger crystals give it a lower surface area, which means that it may be subtler and not as instantly salty as a salt with smaller crystals. Himalayan salt is also known for providing a crunchy texture. Unlike fleur de sel, Himalayan salt crystals are dry.
Fleur de sel is raked from shallow salt ponds in certain coastal areas of France by workers called paludiers. As a moist sea salt, it is renowned for its clean flavor. The fact that it is moist helps to explain its briny aroma, which you will not get from Himalayan salt. The fact that it affects the sense of smell as well as the taste buds can make it a more dramatic addition to certain foods.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
Both types of salt will provide a salty taste, which means that they are perfectly interchangeable if all you want is the flavor of salt. However, these two salts are used mostly as finishing salts. They are not always interchangeable when added as a final touch to cooked foods. Himalayan salt can be used in place of fleur de sel in most applications where an added crunch and a little color would be desirable but not if you want a moist, briny salt.
Fleur de sel can replace Himalayan salt, but not if you want the mineral notes and dramatic pink color.
It should also be noted that Himalayan salt is generally less expensive than fleur de sel. In other words, fleur de sel may not be a cost-effective substitute.
When should you use Himalayan salt and when should you use fleur de sel?
While both are effective for salting dishes, Himalayan salt is generally recommended for use with delicately flavored foods. Vegetables, fish, and popcorn are all excellent applications for it. You can also use it in dishes where you want the salt to be visible when the dish is served. For example, it is useful for enhancing the visual appeal of a grilled steak. You can also use salt blocks made of pink Himalayan salt for cooking steaks.
Fleur de sel’s popularity is due more to its flavor than to its appearance. You will want to use it on foods that its clean brininess will complement. This can include steaks and seafood, but it can also be used to make candies. Note that the fact that it is a relatively expensive salt means that you may want to reserve it for special occasions.