Specialty salts come in many colors, variations

If you made salted caramels any time this holiday season, your recipe may have called for "fleur de sel." a French specialty salt (literally, "flower of salt").

If you're at all curious about experimenting with new ingredients, you sought out some of the stuff, but if you're at all frugal, once you saw the price (upwards of $15 for a teeny weeny bottle) you promptly decided to use the regular old sea salt you had in the cupboard the whole time.

But you wondered: Would the the fleur de sel have made your caramels that much better had they been gently coated with some of the glittery white crystals from that adorable little jar? The comments on the recipe site you used cooed with adoration over the stuff after all. And what were all those other salts on display nearby, an entire shelf in fact?

Are specialty salts the new black?

Well, we wouldn't go that far, but there are quite a few salts to choose from. In fact, Whole Foods in St. Louis Park alone has around 30 different kinds at any given time according to Lisa Pramann, the store's specialty team leader, and that's not including your typical everyday sea and Kosher salts.

Pramann says by far the most popular specialty salt the location sells is a pink Himalayan salt by Himalania. An "unwashed" salt, it has a higher mineral content than a typical sea salt Pramann says. This is what draws many to it. It also has a "cleaner, sharper" flavor which she says typically causes people to use less of it.

"A lot of people are coming in, their doctors or nutritionists are recommending higher mineral content," Pramann says, which leads them to the pink salt. The Himalayan salt is is good for general use, Pramann says, and comes in different grinds ranging from $5.99 to $16.99 a pound.

Another store favorite is the "truffles and salt" -- a sea salt infused with black truffles -- that goes for a whopping $27.99 per 3 1/2 ounce bottle. "It's a very clean, crisp, sparkly white salt," Pramann says. "It's great to use as a finishing salt on grilled meat and veggies, popcorn or baked potatoes."

The same goes another popular specialty salt: smoked sea salt. Whole Foods carries hickory and applewood varieties, which Pramann says are especially popular in the winter. "They make a really nice added flavor for chili and stews," she says. "They add flavor depth to it."

Whole Foods has a number of other interesting salts, including a pink Hawaiian salt so colored by the coral in its environs as well as another Hawaiian salt that is black from the sulphured lava rocks it washes out of. That one tastes like cooked egg yolk Pramann says. And yes, the store has fleur de sel as well.

The store even carries entire salt slabs that Pramann says you can put in the oven and grill thin pieces of fish or meat on it or in the freezer and serve sushi on it later, allowing salt to infuse a little bit into the entrees. Who knew?

Why should you consider changing up your salt? Pramann compares taking a step toward specialty salts to, for example, buying the next step up in a bottle of wine. "The main thing is the amount of flavor you get ... There's a little more complexity and depth and clean flavors to it."

The takeaway? Next time try the fleur de sel!

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