An Ancient Gift From Poseidon to You
“Alas” is the ancient Greek word for salt, derived from its earlier form “als,” meaning sea. This became “sal” in Latin, then sealt in Old English. The root remains in the modern Greek word for sea, Thalassa (th-alas-sa, θάλασσα), and the word for salt, alati (αλάτι).
Not All Salts are Created Equal
Table salt is mined from the underground salt deposits and then processed to give it a fine texture so it’s easier to sprinkle and use in recipes. Processing strips table salt of any minerals and nutrients it may have contained, and additives are also usually mixed in to prevent clumping or caking, resulting in a harsh chemical taste. Most table salt also has added iodine (one of the nutrients lost during processing), which helps maintain a healthy thyroid.
~Pythagoras (c. 570 to c. 490 BC)
Sea salt is obtained directly through the evaporation of seawater, ocean water or saltwater lakes. It’s usually not processed, or undergoes minimal processing, therefore retaining trace levels of minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium and other nutrients. The minerals add flavor and color to sea salt, which also comes in various grain grades and crunchy textures. Sea salt contains naturally occurring iodine and does not need to have it added. The final result is a delicate (brine) taste and pleasant mouthfeel.
as is obvious from the nature of salts;
for the saltish part is left behind owing to its thickness and weight,
and forms salts.”
On Airs, Waters, and Places
~Hippocrates (c. 400 B.C.)
Salt of the Earth
Origins: The Mediterranean Sea (including Greece, Cyprus, France, Italy, and Israel) and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts are the most popular, but where there is saltwater there is sea salt waiting to be harvested.
Grains of Sea Salt
FOUR NOTABLE NATURAL SEA SALTS
Greek sea salt is mostly harvested from salt deposits in shallow basins tucked between sharp rocks that are directly exposed to the splashing surf. Clumps, nodules, and flecks of salt are made up of large grey-white crystals existing in a pool of water so saturated with saline that the salt crystals can’t dissolve, making this part of the collection process simple. Climbing up and down the rocks, not so much.
Flavorful Greek fine-grained white salts like Kalas, Niki, and Perla add immense flavor to any dish and are inexpensive compared to other sea-salt brands, while Cyprus flake salt adds a dimension of crunch. Both are bright white and have a fresh ocean flavor that is especially salty without a heavy mineral taste.
France’s Fleur de Sel (flower of salt), harvested off the coast of Western France (including Brittany and its surrounding islands), ranges in color from white to grey to light pink. The grey tint, also called French Grey Sea Salt, gets its color from the minerals in the clay that lines the salt ponds that's stirred up by the region’s rain. Occasionally this salt displays a faint pink hue due to the minerals (magnesium, iron, calcium), algae, and other beneficial elements present in the salt marshes where it’s collected, resulting in a light floral aroma. Only recently has Fleur de Sel from Greece become available in the United States (see below, Worth Our Salt: Sea Salts We Love, Mentis Fleur de Sel).
Labor-intensive hand harvesting of just the top layer of salt (the premium layer) is one of the reasons Fleur de Sel is more expensive than other types of sea salt. The hard work pays off with a superior product that has a fine, silky consistency and a richer, delicately sweeter flavor than other sea salts, and is why Fleur de Sel is duly referred to as the "caviar of salt."
Uses include sprinkling on meats, fish, and nuts. For a complex taste experience, add to sweets, such as caramels or ice cream. This salt dissolves slowly due to its irregular crystals, making it a great finishing salt.
An ancient underground sea in New South Wales is the origin of Australian Murray River sea salt. As the concentrated brine is pumped up, it travels through several canals before making its way into crystallizer ponds. The brine is evaporated by the sun and crystallizes over the summer months.
This salt’s small flakey crystals are apricot-pink in color, courtesy of the natural mineralized inland brine, has a delicate flavor, and dissolves quickly.
Mayan Sun Sea Salt, Qab-nab Taab (Ocean Salt in Mayan), from El Salvador is a tropical sea salt harvested by capturing and evaporating ocean water in man-made ponds adjacent to mineral-rich volcanic soil deposits. The salt’s resulting high mineral content gives it a rich, delicious flavor. Like Fleur de Sel, this salt is also hand harvested to gather only the top layer.
Mayan sun salt is great for table use, cooking, finishing, and especially sprinkled on rustic, artisan breads.
The making of flavored sea salts involves human interaction where the natural salt is exposed to particular essences. These salts are deliberately smoked (using different woods, such as applewood or alderwood), soaked or combined with flavors to enhance the sea-salt experience (such as black sea salt from Cyprus getting it’s color from activated charcoal, which acts as a natural detoxifier).
Uses: Natural sea salts are great for table use and cooking, adding a pure, vibrant flavor to dishes that will have you tossing your table salt over your left shoulder and into the trash. Some sea salts, natural and flavored, have a unique texture, color or taste making them ideal for finishing dishes just before serving, garnishing the food as well as seasoning it. Flavored sea salts can be used at the table, for cooking, and finishing, adding a fascinating dimension to any meal.
Worth Our Salt (Sea Salts We Love)
Product of: Laconia, Greece
Grades available: Premium, medium grain
About: Mentis Fleur de Sel is 100% hand-harvested using artisanal methods to produce the finest quality sea salt with its full compliment of minerals and the delicate taste of the Mediterranean Sea. This product is a premium sea salt that enhances flavors, improves the texture of foods, and renders far more delicious meals. It is also excellent as a condiment over salads, vegetables, and any type of meat or fish. Locally harvested salt is a unique way to experience the rare and complex flavor of a region and the essence of a country.
Taste & feel: Nuanced and delicate flavor that sets this above regular sea salt; flakey with a subtle crunch.
Uses: Finishing salt for meat, fish, salad, and vegetables. This salt has become a dessert trend, adding a new taste dimension when sprinkled over chocolates, ice cream, or fruit. The contrast of flavors and textures will excite your taste buds.
Product of: Cyprus
Grades available: Crystal flakes
About: Sea salt flakes are produced in the old-fashioned traditional way from Mediterranean sea water. In a dust-free environment, experienced salt makers heat up the sea water and let it evaporate until the delicate pyramid shaped crystal flakes appear. The salt is then harvested, dried, sieved, and packed—all by hand.
Taste & feel: The flaky, crunchy structure of the salt is never hidden in a dish, but instead becomes a more active ingredient. This especially holds true for Falksalt’s popular, flavored salts.
Uses: Cooking, roasting, baking, meats, seafood, sauces/soups, and more.
Our salty pleasures:
Citron: Sprinkle citron flake salt on a baking tray and layer your fish on top (haddock, salmon, pike-perch, or any fish you like). Bake in the oven and prepare for a spectacular lemony fish without added fat.
Wild Garlic: Combine softened unsalted whipped butter with wild garlic flake salt. Spread on French or Italian bread, horizontally cut down the middle, and toast in the oven.
Recipes with more Falksalt flavored salts below.
Product of: France
Grades available: Fine ("fin") and coarse (“gros”) bright-white crystals (coming soon, kosher sea salt with a grain size between fine and coarse, and grey)
About: La Baleine Salins du Midi, Mediterranean sea salt, is a naturally evaporated salt gathered from the salt-pan at Aigues-Mortes—a protected area covering nearly 42 square miles of untamed land where wildlife and flora remain untouched—from before the Roman occupation. La Baleine has been produced in the Aigues-Mortes saltworks in Camargue, France since 1856.
Taste & feel: The crystals have a satisfying crunch and dissolve quickly.
Uses: Table, cooking, roasting, baking, meats, seafood, sauces/soups, brining
Our salty pleasure: For everyday eating and cooking it’s fin. The small flake-like kosher form is great for cooking and the grey adds a delicious earthy dimension to any dish. La Baleine is a staple in our pantry and is readily available in supermarkets and specialty stores nationwide.
Product of: Sicily, Italy
Grades available: Fine and coarse grains
Taste & feel: This all-natural salt combines the distinct taste of black truffles with pure Sicilian sea salt to create an uncommonly delicious flavoring.
Uses: Table, cooking, and finishing. Adds a hint of earthy mushroom flavor to beef, eggs, potatoes, and pasta.
Product of: USA
Grades available: Medium grain
About: On the Garonne River in the early 20th century, salt and wine was transported by small boats. One day, after arriving in the port of Libourne, the sailors discovered that their cargo of wine had escaped from the barrels. The spilled wine soiled the pure white Fleur de Sel. Unable to sell the stained salt, they gave it to Valentine Cornier, the vintner’s wife. Amused by the surprising color of this particular salt, she decided to add some spices and use it to bring savor and originality into her meals.
From France, where the inspiration began, to the U.S. where the dream expands, this visually-stunning finishing salt adds rich dimension to as many dishes your imagination can conjure.
Taste & feel: Spicy, exotic, peppery
Uses: Primarily a finishing salt, it pairs well with grilled meats, especially lamb. It’s also delicious added to gravy and sauces, as well as on a spring salad with freshly-shaved cheese.
Product of: Alaska, USA
Grades available: Natural and flavored flakes
About: This high-quality flake-style finishing salt comes straight from the pristine waters of Southeastern Alaska. As North America's first producer of flake sea salt, Alaska Pure Sea Salt is quickly becoming the preferred finishing salt for a number of top Northwestern chefs. Sea salts produced include Original Flake, Alder Smoked Flake, and Sitka Spruce Tip finishing salts. Seasonal flavors like Wild Blueberry Flake are available in limited supply.
Taste & feel: Mild, flavorful, crisp
Our salty pleasures:
Adler Smoked Smoked over a natural alder-wood fire, this salt has a "just off the BBQ" flavor. Delicious on salmon, red meat, and veggies. Try it on eggs, avocado, coffee ice cream (yes really!), and in your next Bloody Mary.
Sitka Spruce Tip The Sitka spruce tree is native to the Coastal Rainforest of the Northwest. For generations the tips have been used as a natural ingredient in syrup, jam, beer, and now sea salt. This salt is made by infusing the handpicked, bright green spring Spruce tips into light sea-salt flakes. Nothing else is added. With a distinct citrus and herbal flavor, this salt pairs well with seafood, chicken, pork, beef, vegetables, and even popcorn.
Wild Blueberry Infused with only handpicked wild Alaskan blueberries, this salt brightens up almost all desserts, from chocolate brownies to fruit sorbets, and adds a beautiful punch of color. It’s also perfect with salads, fruit, and wild game such as duck or venison.
Product of: Hawaii, USA
Grades available: Fine, medium, and coarse grains
About: In the Hawaiian language, "kai" means "ocean," the source of life. Activated charcoal is added to this solar evaporated black lava Pacific sea salt to give it both a beautiful color and important health benefits. This salt should not be used during the actual cooking process as it will dissolve and the added black elements will settle to the bottom as a residue.
Taste & feel: Bold, robust, and crunchy
Uses: Table salt mills, finishing for salads, meats, and seafood. The silky black color makes this a great garnishing salt.
Product of: Yakima Valley in Washington State, USA
Grades available: Fine flake
About: Aged applewood is one of the most popular of the fruit woods used in smoking and creates a delicious, savory taste. The sweetness of the wood fuels the fires that flavor this naturally smoked sea salt.
Taste & feel: A subtle fruit wood-roasted flavor and delicate crunch
Uses: Finishing, spice blends, salads, meats, seafood, sauces/soups, salt cures, brines. Mild enough to use with fish, shellfish, and poultry. Pork, sausage, ham, and bacon are also delicious when cooked or cured with this smoked salt. Cook in a cast-iron skillet to bring the flavor of an outdoor barbecue into your home.
Product of: Himalayas
Grades available: Fine and coarse grains
About: HimalaSalt was formed 250 million years ago from the primordial ocean during a time of great tectonic pressure and pristine environmental integrity. Hand-harvested from a protected source deep within the exotic and remote Himalayas, this salt remains free of impurities. Its rare, gorgeous pink color stems from its naturally high content of wholesome essential minerals. This salt is never heat-treated or processed. It is slowly stone-ground to retain its full potency of rich essential minerals, delicious full flavor, and health-giving alkaline properties. This salt is free of additives or anti-caking and flow agents, maintaining its authentic purity and goodness.
Taste & feel: Rich, full flavor with a pleasant crunch
Uses: Table, cooking, finishing, soups, pickling, sauces, sautés
¼ cup lemon-flavored sea salt flakes, such as Falksalt Citron Crystal Flakes
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until salt is finely grated. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place (do not refrigerate).
Use as a seasoning on seafood before cooking.
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ teaspoon garlic-infused sea salt flakes, such as Cyprus Wild Garlic Salt (Flake)
2 tablespoons dry white wine
Using a whisk attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce to medium-low speed and beat in the salt and wine until combined. Transfer to a serving bowl and chill until firm. (Can be made up to 1 week ahead.)
Use as a flavoring for meats, seafood, pastas, and a spread for crusty bread.
Shelled nuts (cashews, almonds, pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts, or a combination of your favorites)
Chili-infused sea salt, such as Falksalt Chipotle Crystal Flakes
Heat oven to 350°F. In an ungreased baking pan, toss the nuts with just enough oil to lightly coat, then spread out in a single layer. Bake until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, season with chili salt, and let cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipes by Kelly Salonica Staikopoulos
Copyright © 2013-2019 Kukla's Kouzina: A Gourmet Journey~Greek Island Style
Recipiada (Mentis Fleur de Sel)
The Spice Lab
Alaska Pure Sea Salt
Salt, it’s something we take for granted, not appreciating its value so long ago. Today, sea salt is not only affordable and available, but it’s offered in so many delectable varieties that spice up our table and add variety to our lives. Remember that there’s history in that shaker or grinder you reach for, so use it to make your next dish one for the record books!
We hope you enjoyed learning about and cooking with the spice of the sea with us. For more on this tasty topic, make sure you check out next week's blog Sea Salt~Meze to Dessert Recipes. For other Greek flavors of the kitchen, go to our Greek Herbs, Spices & Flavorings. Stay tuned for upcoming segments on more spices and flavors we love to cook with!
Don’t forget to check out our new cookbook Kukla’s Kouzina: A Gourmet Journey~Greek Island Style, Meze (Appetizers & Petite Plates), available on Amazon (link on our website).
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Kali orexi! Good appetite!
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