The most important etiquette rules on how to serve and eat salt. Tips to be the ideal host or the perfect guest at the dining table.

What salt etiquette is

Salt etiquette is the set of rules to properly serve and eat table salt. Such practices help avoid behaviors that may disrespect your hosts or guests, or make you look unpolite.

If you are hosting, follow salt etiquette to serve it to your guests appropriately.

As a guest, respect salt etiquette rules to properly use it at the dining table and avoid offending your hosts.

What you should know about table salt

Salt is a mineral. It is obtained from seawater or salt mines. Salt is one of the essential food seasonings in cooking and dining etiquette. Furthermore, it is also used to preserve some foods, such as meat, fish, or vegetables.

There are several types of salt. They differ by origin, color, properties, and form.

rules to eat and serve salt and add it to a dish

Etiquette rules to serve and eat salt

1) How to store salt

Salt does not expire.

Store it at room temperature. Ideally, store it in a dry place and avoid humidity. Do not store salt in the fridge or freezer.

2) How to clean salt

You do not need to wash or clean salt. However, salt in grain from low-quality producers could come mixed with small stones. Thus, before cooking or serving salt in grains, it may be appropriate to quickly check its purity.

3) How to prepare salt

You can use salt in almost any preparation, from savory dishes to sweet desserts.

However, it is good etiquette to limit salt when cooking. As a host, it is preferable to serve mildly salted dishes and let guests add salt to their liking. While there is no remedy for a too-salty dish.

Some guests may be particularly sensitive to salt. Others may even avoid it for health reasons, such as to prevent hypertension. Before hosting a meal, it is considerate to ask your guests whether they have some dietary restrictions. If one of your guests is on a DASH diet, limit salt to the minimum when cooking.

4) How to serve & present salt

Salt is a necessary seasoning in dining etiquette.

You can serve salt in grains, fine table salt, and salt flakes. Present salt in grains in a small grinder, table salt in a shaker, and salt flakes in a small shallow cup. Fine table salt is appropriate for most dishes. You can serve salt in grains or flakes when uniform salinity is not necessary, such as with meat or salads.

As a host, you should always place salt when setting the table. Place it at the center of the table, so it is easily accessible to most or all guests. If you are hosting a large party, serve one shaker (or grinder or cup) for every 6 or 8 guests.

Before serving a cheese course, fruit, or dessert, it is polite to remove salt and other seasonings from the table.

5) Foods to use salt with

Salt can be used to cook almost any dish and can be added to most foods. However, it is best to avoid salt with naturally salty foods, such as caviar, or foods that require a significant quantity of salt in their production or cooking, like prosciutto or pizza.

6) How to eat salt

The best etiquette is to avoid adding salt. In general, adding seasoning to a dish risks disrespecting your host. Adding salt can signal that you dislike the flavor, or that the dish could have been prepared better. Thus, if you add salt to a dish, add it in small quantities.

The most polite way to add salt is by putting a small quantity on a side of your plate. Then, spear a bite with your fork and touch the salt before bringing it to your mouth. Adding salt directly to the food is acceptable too, in particular with liquid foods, such as soups, and preparations made of multiple ingredients, such as salads.

When salt is served in flakes, use your fingers to crush the flakes on top of your dish.

salt etiquette mistakes

Salt etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. Read more about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst salt etiquette mistakes. 

  • 8/10. Adding salt in large quantities to your dish.
  • 7/10. Serving too-salty dishes.
  • 7/10. Not placing salt on the dining table.
  • 3/10. Not removing salt from the table before serving a cheese course, fruit, or dessert.

Additional information for properly serving salt

How many calories per serving?

Salt does not contain calories.

How to buy the best salt

A crucial factor in salt etiquette is to serve the best product possible to your guests.

Choose the best

Common salt is undifferentiated. However, it is best to buy salt from reputable brands, as it can contain impurities when it is not properly processed.

Salt in flakes or special salts, such as fleur de sal, can create a non-uniform salinity that may be pleasant or even surprising with some foods, such as salads or meat.

Some mineral salts can have additional properties and add a somewhat distinguished note to a dish. Examples are the pink salt from the Himalayas or the red salt from Hawaii. When you serve these special salts, it is best to present them in grains in a grinder.

Alternatives to salt

The most common substitutes for salt are other spices. Such as mint, pepper, chili, or oregano.