Sea salt and iodized salt are two versions of the same universal seasoning. Sea salt refers to salt harvested from the sea that does not contain iodine; iodized salt refers to any salt with iodine added, including iodized sea salt and iodized table salt. Despite being similar in many ways, there are some important differences between these two salts. We will compare them in this SPICEography Showdown.
Table of Contents
- How does sea salt differ from iodized salt?
- Can you use sea salt as a substitute for iodized salt? And vice versa?
- When should you use sea salt? And when should you use iodized salt?
How does sea salt differ from iodized salt?
Arguably, the most important area in which sea salt and iodized salt differ is in the area of health benefits. Sea salt contains no iodine, while iodized salt does in the form of sodium iodide or potassium iodide. Iodine is a nutrient that is essential for preventing iodine deficiency. Much of the world’s population outside of the US is at risk of iodine deficiency, including parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Pregnant women and vegetarians are two demographics that are at particularly high risk.
Symptoms of iodine deficiency include swelling of the thyroid gland in the neck — the swollen thyroid gland is called a goiter. Iodine deficiency can also cause brain damage in children. Iodized salt has played a key role in eliminating iodine deficiency in much of the world.
Many people can detect a flavor difference between sea salt and iodized salt. The flavor of sea salt is primarily salty, with a clean briny flavor and some subtle notes provided by the mineral content of the seawater from which it was harvested. People who can detect the difference that iodine makes to the taste of salt say that iodine gives food a flavor that often gets described as metallic or chemical.
Iodized sea salt will have the complex notes of sea salt with the addition of iodine. It’s important to note that most people are not able to tell whether salt is iodized or non-iodized after it has been added to food.
Can you use sea salt as a substitute for iodized salt? And vice versa?
Sea salt can work as a substitute for iodized salt, but with a major caveat: you shouldn’t use it as a long-term substitute for people vulnerable to iodine deficiency. Aside from the potential health consequences, sea salt makes an excellent iodized salt substitute; some might even say it offers a superior flavor because the iodine taste is absent.
Iodized salt will be a decent substitute for sea salt, providing the iodized salt has the same texture as the sea salt it is replacing. It is a superior long-term substitute because it contains iodine and will prevent iodine deficiency; however, the potential unpleasant flavor from the iodine keeps it from being an excellent substitute.
When should you use sea salt? And when should you use iodized salt?
Sea salt is best when you want a light, briny salt flavor to accent a mildly flavored dish or when you want the main ingredient’s flavor to be at the forefront and not potentially tainted by the salt. Use it on mild fish and shellfish.
Use iodized salt if you are concerned about iodine deficiency. Iodized salt is an excellent seasoning in highly seasoned dishes if the taste of iodine is a problem. Most people won’t have trouble with iodized salt as a general-purpose salt, since it is difficult to discern the iodine flavor once the salt has been added to food. Iodized salt is an everyday cooking salt that you can add to all your dishes, from soups to beef stews and curries.