I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve fallen for the sea salt craze. A sprinkle on some roasted potatoes or freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies really seals the deal in the texture and taste department.
For this reason, table salt just can’t keep up.
But when it comes down to the nitty gritty chemical composition, sea salt and table salt are really the same thing — they both even come from seas.
And Neil deGrasse Tyson wants you to know that.
Just an FYI: All table salt is sea salt. Mined salt just happens to come from long-buried, evaporated, prehistoric seas.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) August 16, 2015
All salt contains two essential elements for life — sodium and chlorine — but with varying levels of nutrition and minerals. The real distinction between the ‘types’ of salt arises from how the salt is processed and where it comes from.
Manufacturers cull sea salt directly from evaporated ocean water and salt lakes, where machines and human hands then clean and refine it. Sea salt retains its flaky grittiness and rainbow of colours because it’s minimally processed or not processed at all, giving it a coarse crunch and delicate, flaky bite, which some chefs prefer.
The different colours of sea salt come from the trace levels of minerals like magnesium, potassium, and calcium. The darker the sea salt, the higher the concentration of minerals and impurities. This even includes heavy metal concentrations from ocean pollution.
Himalayan pink salt — which is mined from the Khewra Salt Mine in Pakistan, the second largest salt mine in the world — gets its pink colour from bits of iron oxide, or rust. It also contains a small amount of potassium, according to this chart from Authority Nutrition:
Table salt manufacturers, on the other hand, mine salt from ancient, deep, dried up seabeds and salt deposits that were either buried or pushed up thousands of years ago by tectonic activity. Machines blast into the floors of mines to either crush and pull the salt out in rock form, or dissolve it with water and then pump out the salty solution to be dried and refined later.
Unlike sea salt, salt processors often add anti-clumping agents and iodine to make table salt. Because it is more processed and refined, people think of it as the boring, inferior cousin to the colourful, flakey stuff. Health nuts have also latched on to the idea that sea salt is healthier because it’s not fiddled with as much, but that’s just wrong.
According to The American Heart Association (AHA), there aren’t any real health benefits to choosing sea salt over table salt — and it could actually negatively impact your health to not eat table salt.
“Sea salt also generally contains less iodine than table salt,” Rachel K. Johnson, an AHA spokeswoman and researcher at the University of Vermont, said in an article on the AHA website. “Iodine has been added to table salt since the 1920s to prevent the iodine-deficiency disease goiter.”
And that table salt is our main food source of iodine. If you don’t have enough, your thyroid could balloon and cause a goiter, or it could become underactive and cause fatigue, weakness, and weight gain.
The minerals in sea salt aren’t going to make it any healthier — they are in such tiny concentrations that you can easily obtain them from other healthy foods, such as fish, green vegetables, and nuts.
“The minute amounts of trace minerals found in sea salt are easily obtained from other healthy foods,” Johnson said.
So next time you’re deciding between the pink, flakey stuff and the boring, white stuff, chose the sea salt for its superior texture and taste, not because it’s healthier for you. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s orders.
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