When stocking spice rack, the prospect of purchasing the simplest sodium chloride - salt - has become anything but simple. Within this flurry of far-flung geography, foreign language and glorious color that exists in the salt world, pickling salt stands alone. But do you really need it in your kitchen?
To start, pickling salt - canning salt or preserving salt - is, quite simply, pure salt used for the preservation of food, a process dating back thousands of years.
Pickling salt differs mainly from other types of salts in a few ways. It contains no additives (like iodine, commonly found in table salt) or anti-caking agents, with which many salts are treated to prevent clumping. In the pickling process, anti-caking agents can turn the liquid cloudy, and the presence of iodine makes pickles and other preserved foods dark and unappetizing.
Pickling salt is also much more finely ground than even table salt, making it quick to dissolve in liquids for brining.
So do you need pickling salt in your kitchen?
If you plan to do a lot of pickling, then yes. However, pickling salt isn't an absolute necessity in most homes, and other types of salt may be substituted in its place - provided they're free of additives and anti-caking agents.
Pure sea salt and pure kosher salt make good alternatives, but keep in mind flaked salt (like kosher) weighs less per volume than the fine-ground pickling salt, meaning you'll have to use more. This guide from the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension recommends using about 1.5 times more kosher salt than pickling salt.