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Choosing the Right Salt Just Got More Complicated

With the introduction of Diamond Crystal’s new Baking Salt comes even more complex conversions and a whole lot of confusion

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Different sized wooden spoons featuring different types of salt in varying crystal sizes. Westend61 via Getty Images

This post originally appeared in the October 15, 2023 edition of Eater Today, which brings you the freshest news from the food world every day. Subscribe now.

According to a chart on Epicurious, a ½ teaspoon of Diamond Crystal kosher salt — a food media favorite — is equivalent to the same measurement of Morton table salt or Baleine coarse salt. But let’s say you’re using Morton coarse kosher salt or Baleine fine salt: It’ll be ⅜ teaspoon of that for every ½ teaspoon of Diamond Crystal. This is important because while not every recipe states it outright, many are written around Diamond Crystal measurements; it’s the go-to salt for recipe development at Bon Appétit and a favorite at America’s Test Kitchen.

A new product introduces the need for more math: This week, Diamond Crystal launched “Baking Salt,” a fine kosher salt that it claims “dissolves, mixes, and blends faster and more evenly into batters and doughs than traditional table salt.” This salt comes with its own conversion chart clarifying that ⅜ teaspoon of Baking Salt equals half a teaspoon of regular Diamond Crystal kosher, which it lists as equivalent to ¼ teaspoon of “competitor kosher salt.” And if that’s all a bit confusing, that’s because it is. When did salt, something so basic and essential, become so complicated?

Indeed, somewhere between food media’s constant fawning over Diamond Crystal and the launch of hyper-specific salt products like Baking Salt or Jacobsen’s Disco Di Sale (10-gram discs of salt intended for “perfectly seasoned pasta”), the sense has arisen among some home cooks that maybe this is all a little too persnickety. Diamond Crystal kosher salt was the leading ingredient in a buzzy recent Reddit post that asked: “What popular cooking item or method are you kind of resistant to?” In a post-influencer world, skeptics sometimes toss around suspicion of sponsorship, but I doubt it’s so nefarious; we, in the food world, simply love to pick a food and make it into a personality (consider the seafood clothes, or the concept of the pasta girl).

Salt is salt is salt, but only to an extent. How much Diamond Crystal you use, as opposed to how much Morton, actually matters. As Mari Uyehara wrote in Taste in 2017, the assumption that kosher salts were 1:1 interchangeable led to reader dissatisfaction at Bon Appétit that prompted its kitchen to cross-test recipes using both Diamond Crystal and Morton. The Washington Post acknowledged the differences between salts in a 2021 announcement that it was moving away from kosher salt and making fine sea salt — which it described as less confusing than kosher salt and easier to swap with table salt — its recipe standard instead.

This increased fuss around salt seems part of bigger shifts in the food world. For one thing, there’s the need for brands to differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded market. In all, the launch of Baking Salt falls in line with the takeaways of a New York Times piece from August about Diamond Crystal’s recent revamp: The brand is no longer concerned with just being basic, cheap salt. In fact, as the Times reported, the brand is specifically trying to differentiate itself from Morton, which dominates kosher salt sales despite Diamond Crystal’s vocal supporters, by leaning into the “aspiring home chef” demographic, with “traditionalists” a secondary priority.

That means branding and pricing that de-emphasize the sense of Diamond Crystal as being thrifty and industrial, moving it from a commodity salt to a premium salt, the Times describes. (Of course, it remains industrial. Diamond Crystal is owned by the corporation Cargill, which is why some choose not to use it.) As of this writing, a container of Baking Salt runs $0.82 per ounce compared to the $0.27 per ounce of a big box of the brand’s regular kosher salt. That’s a big price jump, plus you’ve gotta do that extra math.

And it’s hard not to see the influencerification of the food world as part of this increased salt fuss too. Consider, for example, the “millennial Martha Stewart” Molly Baz, who is known for her vocal devotion to Diamond Crystal. Her appeal lies largely in teasing a “my life but better” fantasy through food. To return to Diamond Crystal’s use of the word “aspiring”: Certainly, the sense of cooking as an aspirational pursuit — and thus, of ingredients, including salt, as lifestyle signifiers — motivates some of the hyper-specific salt cult. How and with what you salt can also signify being “in the know.” Diamond Crystal, the Times points out, can be seen in the FX’s The Bear, which got non-service workers saying “heard” and sipping out of deli containers in an odd sense of kitchen cosplay.

At the end of the day, what matters is that your food is seasoned. Coarse, fine, kosher, baking — all the terms matter, but you might want to take them all with a grain of salt.