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.
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.
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.
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.
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.