When I grew up, I didn’t know there was any other type of salt than iodized table salt. As far as I knew, all salt was white, had very tiny crystals, and came in a round cardboard container with a picture of a little girl in raingear. I didn’t know salt came in different sizes and different colors — like pink.

The pink-hued variety that’s very popular right now is Himalayan salt. It is fossilized sea salt mined from the Himalayan mountain range. This course grain salt gets its colors from the minerals iron oxide, the same mineral that creates rust. It’s used in a variety of ways.

Cooking with Himalayan salt

Himalayan salt is both a cooking salt and a finishing salt. For cooking, the coarse crystals can be made finer with a salt grinder or you can purchase the salt already finely ground. When used as a finishing salt, many people leave it coarse for both the visual effect of the pink salt on the food and for a burst of saltiness when the large crystal comes in contact with the taste buds.

Great health benefits are associated with Himalayan salt, but many of those seem to be more marketing claims than proven benefits. Minerals like phosphorus, bromine, boron and zinc that are in the salt are in such small quantities that they don’t have any benefit. According to Yahoo Health, the American diet is not deficient in these minerals. We get them in other foods like grains, vegetables and meats.

Replacing regular table salt with Himalayan salt for the supposed health benefits is probably useless and is definitely more expensive. Himalayan salt has a place in the kitchen for its flavor and color for certain dishes, but you’re most likely wasting your money if you use it for everything.

Himalayan salt blocks

Using a large slab of Himalayan salt for cooking and serving food is a trend right now. Himalayan salt blocks can retain heat and are used to cook foods like meat, eggs, pizzas and more. They are also used to cure foods and keep foods cold when serving. The salt block will impart salt to whatever food is on it, so fanning foods out in layers is recommended so that the entire portion isn’t touching the salt block to avoid over-salting.

Non-culinary uses for Himalayan salt

The large crystals of this salt make it ideal to use as an exfoliate in scrubs used on non-sensitive parts of the body like feet or elbows. Like other salts, the minerals in the Himalayan salt are good for skin cell restoration and reducing the signs of aging. While any coarse sea salt will have basically the same benefits as Himalayan salt, the pink hue will affect the color of the scrub. Himalayan salts also make a pretty addition to bath salt mixtures.

himalayan salt lampMany people report breathing easier with a Himalayan salt lamp in the room. (Photo: colors/Shutterstock)

Himalayan salt is also used in lamps that work as air purifiers. When the lamp is lit and the salt is heated, it emits negative ions that are supposed to clear the air of pollutants making it easier to breathe. If you look at the reviews of many of these lamps online, you’ll find anecdote after anecdote from people who claim things like their children sleep better, their asthma has been helped, odors have been eliminated and more. Anecdotal evidence is not scientific evidence, though, and some say these benefits are from a placebo effect.

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.