What is Sea Salt?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Sea salt is formed from the natural evaporation of ocean water, generally in man-made pools near a protected shoreline. It is 98% sodium chloride, compared to table salt's 99.9% purity. The remaining 2% can include trace minerals such as iron, magnesium, sulfur, or iodine. Unlike table salt, which may be mined from land-based sources, natural sea salt does not contain added anti-caking ingredients or potassium iodide. It is also considered Kosher, which means it has been approved by rabbis for use by observant Jews.

Sea salt contain trace amounts of iodine and other minerals.
Sea salt contain trace amounts of iodine and other minerals.

Many proponents of sea salt believe it to be much more flavorful than standard table salt. Chefs primarily use it or kosher salt as a crust for baked potatoes or in French and Thai-inspired cuisine. It is actually not quite as salty as table salt, so recipes may have be adjusted for taste. It is sometimes more expensive than other seasonings, although some critics argue that its flavor benefits may not justify the additional cost.

Different regions produce different colors of salt.
Different regions produce different colors of salt.

Sea salt is also used in the cosmetics industry, primarily as a natural exfoliant or scrub. Its organic nature also lends a certain cachet to higher-end products, such as skin care treatments and foundations. Natural salt crystals may form the base for deodorants or antiperspirants. Many bath salt mixtures contain generous amounts of natural sea salt.

Most sea salts contain approximately 40% sodium by weight, roughly the same as table salt.
Most sea salts contain approximately 40% sodium by weight, roughly the same as table salt.

Commercial sea salt processors also earn extra income through the sale of trace minerals removed from the initial batches. Industries often use sodium carbonate in chemical compounds for water purification systems. Vitamin manufacturers can utilize other trace minerals for human consumption. Owners of saltwater aquariums often purchase special blends of sea salt to maintain the proper salinity of their tanks.

Sea salt can be used in cosmetics as an exfoliant.
Sea salt can be used in cosmetics as an exfoliant.

Organic sea salts often retain properties unique to their regions. French salt marshes often produce a grayish salt, while other places may yield pink-hued salt crystals. Some gourmet chefs can readily identify the origins of different salts and form a preference for a particular region. For most purposes salt is salt, but gourmet recipes may call for quality ingredients such as an expensive sea salt from a specific region.

Sea salt facial scrub can be used to remove blackheads, whiteheads and dead skin.
Sea salt facial scrub can be used to remove blackheads, whiteheads and dead skin.
Some bath salt blends are made using organic sea salt.
Some bath salt blends are made using organic sea salt.
Natural salt crystals may form the base for deodorants or antiperspirants.
Natural salt crystals may form the base for deodorants or antiperspirants.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


I'm extremely allergic to sea salt (anaphylaxis reaction). Just chiming in to support the other people who have this problem! I cook entirely from home now. I can tolerate regular table salt, though, so I am assuming it is from the traces of shellfish/fish that are not processed out of it. Are there any forums or facebook groups for this problem? It would be great to band together to get this labelled as an allergen.


I have a fish and shellfish allergy. However, it didn't stop me from trying products with sea salt added. I absolutely have reactions (hives) when I eat things with sea salt. My father has the same allergies and reaction to sea salt. From what I've read, sea salt isn't cleaned/purified in the same manner as table salt. In any case, this is extremely frustrating and disappointing because it's becoming insanely difficult to find products without sea salt. All the "uncured" organic/natural hams and bacon have it, not to mention everything else that is supposed to be "organic". I'm having to look for "salt free" things like chips, which I sprinkle table salt on to eat or make everything at home. I'm seriously considering curing my own meats. All because of this "myth" that sea salt is better, when it's just cheaper to produce.

What's truly shocking is that this isn't getting enough attention. How many people with allergies don't realize why they're sick because everyone assumes "salt" is safe. Well, it's not the salt, but the dirty sea water that's the problem for allergic people. If a person can have anaphylaxis just from smelling peanuts from across a room, it's not really difficult to assume that such an intense sensitivity could occur with fish/shellfish allergies (or maybe even allergies to other critters in the sea that we don't normally eat).

Those with this issue with sea salt need to band together and start telling manufacturers to go back to table salt. And they definitely should be labeling their products for this allergen.


They are ruining everything by putting sea salt in it. Now I can't even eat lunchables or my favorite nuts. People should have a choice. You can't eat soup either.


Anything from the sea contains large amounts of iodine, especially salt. Many people who have a sensitivity to shellfish have a sensitivity to iodine and vice versa.


i had bread made with sea salt and had a severe allergic reaction to it. i had rapid heartbeat and trouble breathing. i had to go to the hospital.


I am extremely allergic to all foods from the sea and now it is hard to buy a lot of my favorite food without sea salt. Any suggestion as to why we are using sea salt and not just less salt? if it is that important we use less salt.


My daughter is extremely allergic to sea salt. She is not allergic to shellfish but is highly allergic to corn, gluten, casein, egg yolk and food dyes. Her reaction to sea salt is behavioral for example, melt downs, problems verbally communication, becomes very mean, and more.

We originally were given Ocean Plasma from a doctor for healing purposes and she had such a reaction to it we had it tested. Followed by Celtic Salt, Hain Sea Salt and the final straw was going to the Galveston Island this summer and her almost violent reaction to ocean water itself. Wow!

I don't understand why sea salt (ocean water). These results have been gathered over time - the last year and a half. -Stephanie


i think that sea salt is the best and healthiest salt on earth. people who say it's gross and other salt is cheaper are saying the oddest thing. mostly ridiculous!


i have been allergic to shellfish since I was a child. I was having food allergy issues a few years back and could not find the source. Sea salt was a staple in my diet as I was cooking all of my own food and it was the one ingredient that was consistent.

In any event, I stay away from sea salt altogether. I've read that people who are allergic to shellfish can have low grade reactions to sea salt. Secondly, I've also run across another person who professes that the minerals in sea salt are unbound and therefore, are in a free-radical state attaching itself to other tissue before reaching your intestines.

Whether it is not good for people who are allergic to shellfish or everybody because of the minerals being in the wrong form, I stay away. I can vouch for it not working for me.


All salt originally comes from the sea, even land-based salts. The Salt Flats, for instance, were once covered by the ocean, and it was only after the water receded that the Flats became what they are today. The difference that I see between sea salt and land-based salt is in the processing, not the salt itself.


Can you tell me what reactions you have to sea salt regarding the allergies? I am beginning to think I have allergies to fish product. Today I ate something with sea salt and had same reaction. What do you do when you have a reaction. My eyes puff up, that is all.


We love sea salt from Florida Herb House!


i love sea salt.


I love celtic sea salt! they have a fine ground sea salt which is great for baking. Their salts are also Kosher certified and are sustainably hand harvested, and unrefined.


I'm a personal chef and I use two brands of sea salt. I love the flavor and taste. I used to purchase french salt from grain and salt and noticed the high lead content publication that from came out and I stopped using it.

When purchasing salt please look at the minerals on the label.

Good luck trying both tropical salt and maine salt.


I always thought sea salt was harmful? You know, "water water everywhere, but nary a drop to drink?"


Sea salt is becoming a very popular thing which is extremely annoying for people with shellfish allergies. Sea salt can actually contain particles of shellfish, and it is found in everything now. I spent months trying to log and figure out what was causing my reactions (totally avoiding any fish) and I have come to discover that everything I eat that contains sea salt, gives me a mild reaction. I just hope people learn that when they add sea salt to something, they should state it as such in the ingredients. Plus with the growing number of food allergies these days, people should think twice about the benefits vs. the consequences.


I've heard that once sea salt is heated (cooked) it reverts back to regular table salt - is there any truth to this?


how much salt is produced in a gallon of saltwater?


That is as efficient at converting energy salt?


If your goal is to eat a salt that is not refined, buying something called "sea salt" does guarantee that it will be unprocessed in any way. In fact, huge quantities of refined sea salts are made by industrial salt makers. Most people looking for "sea salts" are actually looking for "artisan salts" or "hand harvested salts." Getting the manual labor involved in some way means that industrial economies of scale, and industrial handling, to not drive the quality of the salt.


Why is it that sea salt does not appear to dissolve in hot boiling water on the stove, but rather sink to the bottom of the pot or stick to the food in solid form? If sea salt is supposed to be 98% sodium chloride, it should break apart and become dissolved in liquids, right?


I prefer the taste of Kosher salt. Plus, it's cheaper than sea salt!

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