Exotic salts are white hot, even when they come in black or gray. And they're not just for cooking--you'll find them in health remedies and beauty products. Here's a look at what's shaking.
the salt spectrum
Black salt is a staple of Indian cooking and Ayurvedic medicine (Kalustyan's; 212-685-3888). Maldon sea salt from England is flaky, not grainy (King Arthur Flour; 800-827-6836). At more than $20 a pound, French fleur de sel is the world's priciest salt (Mushroom Man; 800-945-3404). Table salt. Black salt, when it's broken into small pieces, looks pink. Kosher salt has more zing than table salt and is a mainstay of the FOOD & WINE test kitchen.
salt at the source
Salt is ubiquitous--but where does it come from? Salt farms around the globe, from Japan to Argentina, harvest the mineral from evaporated salt water. Salt mines tap into underground deposits left by ancient seas. There are salt mines as close to home as Louisiana and as far away as Africa.
Better Botanical's Indulge Dead Sea Bath Salts, are flecked with rose petals ($16 for 1 pound; 888-BBHERBS). Aveda's Soothing Aqua Therapy Bath Salts also plunder the Dead Sea for minerals ($25 for 1 pound; 800-328-0849).
health: myth vs. fact
Myth: Salt has no redeeming health qualities. Fact: Salt is essential for well-being. It helps maintain the body's fluid balance, regulates blood pressure, sparks nerve communications and aids muscle contractions. Myth: Salt aggravates high blood pressure. Fact: Not always--many people with a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure are unaffected by salt. "Diet therapies should be evaluated the same way that drug therapies are," says Mark Pecker, M.D., director of the Cornell University Hypertension Center. "When it comes to high blood pressure, reducing salt is the first line of defense, but it requires dramatic salt restriction. Some people respond well to a low-salt diet. If it works and they can tolerate it, great. If it doesn't, they should try something else. It all really depends on the individual."
5 spas worth their salt
1. Bliss Spa NEW YORK CITY The Bliss Hot Milk and Almond Pedicure involves dry-buffing the feet, soaking them in steamed whole milk and exfoliating the skin with a scrub made of sea salts mixed with almond oil (212-219-8970).
2. Eden Rock Resort and Spa MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA Guests who opt for the Dead Sea Mud Body & Scalp Treatment rinse off in the ocean (305-531-0000).
3. Healing Waters Spa at Lake Austin Spa Resort AUSTIN, TEXAS The Hydra Marine Mud Manicure requires covering the arms and hands with mud that has been enriched with marine nutrients to soften the skin (800-847-5637).
4. Mineralia Spa at the Hyatt Regency Dead Sea Resort EIN GEDI, ISRAEL In addition to therapeutic Dead Sea swims, guests can take advantage of the spa's Dead Sea pool and assorted mud and seaweed wraps (011-97-2-7-659-1234).
5. Thermes Marins de Monte-Carlo MONTE CARLO AZUR Tonic Therapy Treatments include salt-water beautifiers, such as hydromassage, seaweed baths and seaweed and mud packs (011-37-7-92-16-20-00)
where to go for a salt fix
3660 on the Rise Honolulu chef Russell Siu serves a strip steak layered with pale orange Hawaiian sea salt (the salt, harvested along the shores of Kauai and Molokai, gets its distinctive color from algae).
Salts Boston chef Steve Rosen uses sea salt spiked with edible gold flakes to cure gravlax. The salt helps the gold permeate the fish, which literally sparkles.
The Rattlesnake Club Detroit chef Jimmy Schmidt buries pears in hot salt and bakes them, then removes the salt, blasts the pears with a propane torch until they caramelize and serves them with ginger ice cream and a Pinot Noir sauce.
The French Laundry Napa Valley pastry chef Stephen Durfee uses a sprinkle of sea salt to heighten the flavor of the bittersweet chocolate on slow-baked meringues.
the beauty of salt
Safa's Exfoliating Scrub buffs skin with Dead Sea salts ($29 for a 19-ounce jar; 888-400-SAFA). E's Alum Block with salt alum heals shaving nicks ($15 for a 3.5-ounce stone; 800-94-SHAVE). Origin's Let's Circulate Salt Rub Soap invigorates ($12 for a 7-ounce bar; 800-ORIGINS).
Many of us have used a salt-water gargle to treat a sore throat. But Ayurvedic and homeopathic medicine offer other, less common cures. To try an Ayurvedic Rx for indigestion, for instance, mix a pinch of Indian black salt with one part yogurt, three parts water and a dash of cumin and consume 6 to 8 ounces. A health-food-store salt remedy, Natrum muriaticum, is a homeopathic treatment for heartbreak. The thinking is that by ingesting a small dose of salt, which represents tears, you boost your immune system and strengthen your resistance to depression.