Salt is the most important seasoning and has been used all over the world, throughout human history. Every culture uses salt since it is an essential nutrient along with being the most important flavor enhancer in existence. Sea salt is one of the many varieties of salt used in cooking and is typically collected from seawater that has been evaporated to leave salt crystals behind. The difference between sea salts has mostly to do with the location from which each type of salt is harvested and methods used to harvest it. Both fleur de sel and other types of sea salt like Maldon sea salt and more heavily refined sea salt come from seawater as opposed to table salt, which is mined.
In order to determine which is best for your purposes, you will need to look at their differences and the best ways to use them. Let’s break it down in our SPICEography Showdown – fleur de sel vs. sea salt.
How does the flavor of fleur de sel differ from that of sea salt?
Fleur de sel consists of seawater collected off the coast of Brittany in France and that has been evaporated over clay beds. Many types of sea salt retain some impurities as a result of minerals in the seawater. Those impurities give each type its characteristic flavor. When it comes to fleur de sel, the characteristic flavor is usually described in terms of its similarity to seawater. This salt tastes and smells a lot like the ocean. Its salinity is simple and straightforward. In addition, it contains more moisture than refined sea salts. The moisture keeps the flavor from leaving your taste buds as quickly as the flavor dry salts would. The light and flaky texture also allows it to enhance your food’s flavor without hiding it behind an excessively salty flavor.
Other forms of sea salt are likely to contain less moisture than fleur de sel. For example, Maldon sea salt is relatively dry. Maldon sea salt also has larger, pyramid-shaped flakes when compared to fleur de sel. The large flakes may allow it to linger on the tongue like fleur de sel but smaller grained sea salts may not have the same effect, which means that they may be more like table salt.
Can you use one in place of the other?
You can use fleur de sel in place of other coarse-grained sea salts as a finishing salt. Coarsely grained salts do not dissolve as quickly, which means that their crystals stay on the surface of foods and provide flavorful bursts of salt and a pleasant crunch. Fleur de sel does not make a good substitute in baked goods for that same reason. Because it does not dissolve easily, you wind up with the salt flavor being unevenly distributed.
Similarly, you can use coarse sea salts in place of fleur de sel in situations that call for a finishing salt, but not fine-grained ones since they dissolve too quickly.
When should you use fleur de sel? When should you use sea salt?
Use fleur de sel to finish steaks or simple seafood dishes. The strong, briny flavor it brings is a great complement to shellfish like shrimp and scallops. You can use it in sweet dishes as well, including some chocolates and salted caramel desserts.
Dryer flakier sea salts are better for even sprinkling and work well for flavoring salads and other raw vegetable preparations.