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Really, how many kinds of salt do I need to know?

My best friend set out five different types of salt the last time we went to his place for dinner. They all tasted like salt to me. What gives? When did salt get so . . . precious? When did my friend get so . . . precious? And am I now a total Visigoth for just putting out the usual table salt when I have people over to eat? Please help.

Yeah, five kinds of salt is a bit much. There are differences, of course: Granulated table salt has additives to keep it from caking, iodized salt is fortified with potassium iodide, sea salt has traces of algae, bacteria and clay and those exorbitantly priced Hawaiian black and pink salts your friend no doubt loves to lord over his dinner mates are mixed with clay, coral or lava for colour. But the taste? They're all pretty much the same. What really makes salts different is their texture and the way they dissolve on your tongue. Use standard iodized salt for baking and seasoning liquids, kosher salt for meats and fish (I swear by Diamond Brand, but just pick one and stick with it; you'll develop a feel for it) and flaky, crunchy Maldon or fleur de sel for salads, finishing dishes just before serving and use at the table. And next time Precious comes over, try setting out five different types of bottled water. Because those really taste different from each other, right?

Chris Nuttall-Smith is a food writer and restaurant columnist. Have an entertaining dilemma? E-mail

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