Are table salt and sea salt really all that different? We'll break down each salt's distinct characteristics and explain whether one is healthier than the other. 
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As the most basic seasoning in all foods, salt should be an ingredient that's straightforward and simple. But with all the varieties to choose from (different sizes, colors and names), it can oftentimes feel like the opposite. Here, we'll go over two of the most popular salt varieties, table salt and sea salt, and cover how they're made and how they should be used. Plus, we'll go over their nutritional profiles and explain whether one is healthier than the other. 

What Is Table Salt?

Table salt comes from mining underground salt deposits. It's then processed to remove minerals and impurities. Afterward, most table salts are fortified with iodine as well as additives to prevent clumping. Iodine is an essential mineral that you need in order to maintain a healthy thyroid. However, your body is unable to produce it on its own. The U.S. began fortifying salt with iodine in the 1920s—a time when iodine deficiencies and illnesses such as goiters (irregular growths in the thyroid) were common. Today, most people are able to get their iodine dosage through their daily diet and don't need the help of iodized table salt. Fish like cod, Greek yogurt, milk, eggs and seaweed are all iodine-rich.

The texture of table salt is very fine, and it dissolves quickly. It has a sharp flavor since it's been purified and ridded of any trace minerals. Table salt is best used in recipes that call for small quantities of salt, such as cakes or doughs, because when used in large amounts the anti-caking additives may impart a metallic taste. 

What Is Sea Salt?

Sea salt is created by evaporating saltwater. It's minimally processed, which means it contains small amounts of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium. The exact taste, texture and color depend on where and how the sea salt was harvested. Some popular sea salt varieties include fleur de sel from France, which is moist and delicate; Maldon salt from the United Kingdom, which is flaky and soft; and Celtic salt, or sel gris, also from France, which is coarse and gray. 

Sea salt crystals are bigger and have a more nuanced flavor due to the presence of trace minerals. They're a great addition in all types of recipes, but depending on the variety, some are better to use during cooking or baking while others are better as a finishing salt. As a rule of thumb, use sea salts that are more finely ground in a recipe, and use ones that are flaky, soft and delicate as a finishing salt. As a bonus, the latter will impart another layer of texture to your dish.

sea salt and table salt
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Similarities and Differences between Table Salt and Sea Salt

So, what are the differences and similarities between table salt and sea salt? Here's a quick breakdown:

  1. Composition: Table salt and sea salt generally have the same nutritional values and sodium levels, but their exact composition differs. Table salt is usually fortified with iodine and anti-caking agents, while sea salt contains a small amount of naturally occurring minerals.
  2. Size and texture: Table salt is fine and dissolves quickly, while sea salt is coarser and will impart some crunch when used as a finishing salt.
  3. Flavor: Sea salt contains trace minerals, which means it has a more complex flavor than table salt.
  4. Shelf life: Sea salt can last forever. Table salt, on the other hand, has a shelf life of about five years because it's usually fortified with iodine and contains anti-caking agents.
  5. Price: Sea salt is more expensive than table salt. This is because sea salt is produced in smaller batches and oftentimes by hand, which makes it more labor-intensive. Iodized table salt can be purchased for as low as $0.30 per pound, while sea salts begin at more than twice that price.  

Is Sea Salt Healthier Than Table Salt?

Although sea salt has been marketed as a healthier salt, the truth is that it has the same basic nutritional value as table salt. Both salts contain approximately 40% sodium by weight. However, because most sea salt crystals are bigger than table salt crystals, sea salt may have less sodium by volume. This happens because fewer sea salt crystals fit in a given volume measurement. For example, 1 teaspoon of sea salt has about 2,000 milligrams of sodium, compared to 2,360 milligrams in 1 teaspoon of table salt.

As for the additional elements found in the respective salts (iodine for table salt and trace minerals in sea salt), most people are able to get these minerals through their daily diet. Unless your doctor recommends a specific salt for an underlying health condition, choose the salt that tastes better to you. 

What If I Have High Blood Pressure?

Sodium is an essential mineral for healthy nerves, muscles and blood pressure. However, it's important to use any type of salt in moderation. Too much sodium can cause high blood pressure and heart disease. According to the Dietary Guidelines, adults should consume less than 2,300 milligrams of salt per day (about 1 teaspoon of salt). However, the American Heart Association recommends that adults aim for a sodium limit of 1,500 milligrams per day, especially those with high blood pressure or underlying kidney or heart conditions.

Bottom Line

When it comes to choosing between table salt and sea salt, neither is better or worse for you. Although the composition of the two differs slightly, the amount of sodium in each is the same by weight. So, choose the salt that tastes best to you and the one that fits your budget. For more information on salt and how it relates to a healthy eating pattern, visit our Low-Sodium Diet Center.