Pickling Salt Vs. Sea Salt: SPICEography Showdown

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Pickling salt and sea salt are chemically similar and taste a lot alike. Both will make your food salty; however, there are some key differences in how you should use them. Let’s look at how they compare in this SPICEography Showdown. 

How does pickling salt differ from sea salt? 

Grain-size is the area where the two salts differ the most. While there is such a thing as coarse pickling salt, most pickling salt is fine-grained and the overall consistency is more consistently powdery when compared to sea salt. The difference in grain-size is more than just cosmetic, it means that pickling salt and sea salt function differently even though they offer the same flavor. 

The difference in grains means that pickling salt dissolves faster, which speeds things up whether you are making fermented pickles or quick pickles. Remember that salt is more than just a flavoring in pickles, it is crucial to the preservation process and for ensuring that your food is safe to eat. You will want to ensure that all of the salt that is supposed to be in a pickle recipe dissolves fully in the brine. A fast-dissolving salt might be an important ingredient for some other dishes as well. 

Flavor concentration is another important factor when comparing pickling salt to sea salt. Pickling salt tastes saltier than larger-grained salts. This occurs for two reasons: the first is its smaller crystals that dissolve more quickly on the tongue. The second reason that pickling salt will give you more saltiness is that there is more salt in a teaspoon of it than there is in a teaspoon of sea salt. The small grains are all more or less all the same size and have a regular shape, which allows them to fit more compactly in a teaspoon since there is not as much air.

Pickling salt is just a finer version of regular table salt minus the additives. Sea salt is harvested from seawater and will contain minerals that give it a distinctive oceanic flavor profile.  

Can you use pickling salt in place of sea salt and vice versa?

Pickling salt works as a table salt just like sea salt. What’s more, it is additive-free like sea salt. It will provide the same clean salty flavor to food and you can use both salts for pickling since they lack the anti-caking agents and iodine that can make pickles less enjoyable.

However, you will need to keep the grain size in mind if you want to use it as a sea salt substitute. The smaller grain size means that it won’t work as a finishing salt since they will dissolve rapidly and won’t provide the visual effect you want. Because it is saltier, use less of it.

When using sea salt in place of pickling salt, measure it by weight instead of by volume. Measuring by weight will be more accurate because of the irregular grain size. Getting an accurate measurement is extra important since you need the right amount of salt for effective pickling. 

When should you use pickling salt and when should you use sea salt?

The best application for pickling salt is in making pickles. While you can use it as table salt in a pinch, it works best in the brine for pickles. Alternatively, you might find it useful when making a last-minute salad dressing since the grains will dissolve almost instantly in a water-based liquid.

Use sea salt as a finishing salt and in dishes where mineral taste will enhance the ingredients’ flavors or where the large crystals will work as a visual enhancement.