Himalayan salt is old. Older than organised religion, agriculture, human life – older even than Rupert Murdoch. “It’s millions and millions of years old,” explains Sadie-Jane Berinson, resident salt expert at Gewürzhaus. “You read reports of it being anywhere between 250 and 600 million years old.”
Most Himalayan salt is produced from the ancient Khewra Salt Mine in Pakistan. The site was apparently discovered by Alexander the Great’s horse in 326 BC. It began licking the ground as they passed through – though Alexander’s role should probably be taken with a grain of salt (ahem). “It was formerly an inland salt lake, and it has evaporated over eons,” says Berinson of the huge mine.
Even though it has been continuously mined for more than 2000 years, there’s still estimated to be around 6.687 billion tons of the stuff left in the ground at Khewra. It’s so big it even has a salt-bridge, mosque and a post office.
The salt mined there is, for the most part, an attractively mottled pink colour. “It has a really beautiful, rich, pink colour, with all the different hues of pink that it holds,” says Berinson. Varieties mined nearby in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan are heavy in the mineral greigite, which makes them a distinctive violet-to-black colour.
While all salts – whether from the Murray, Brittany or Iran – are composed mostly of sodium chloride, there’s a distinctive chemical makeup to those from the Himalayas. “They say it has a much higher proportion of minerals, and a different ratio than other salts,” says Berinson. “They can retain up to 74 different minerals, particularly in the black Himalayan salts. It’s the chemical make up that makes salts vary, as well as where they’re sourced and how they’re mined.”
Pretty much every salt consists of 96 per cent sodium chloride. But what distinguishes specialty salts like the Himalayan variety from table salt, is your standard-issue SAXA has trace minerals removed and is mixed with an anti-caking agent.
What can’t be disputed is the impact of salt’s appearance, texture and mouthfeel. Fine, flakey salt can float over your palate briskly, while thicker crystals linger in the mouth. “If you do salt tests, you’ll find it’s a lot to do with the difference in texture of the grain,” says Berinson. “Some salts are flakey and dissolve really quickly on the tongue, and then there’s granulated salts which are your normal table salts. At Gewürzhaus we’ve got at least 20 different salts, and even the grains vary in texture.”
Himalayan salt can also be used in cooking to dramatic effect. Thick slabs of salt can be heated directly over the gas burner (or cooled in the freezer), retaining temperature while gently infusing into the dish. Shannon Bennett, for instance, cooks and serves a cured-wallaby dish on a Himalayan salt block at Vue de Monde. “The beauty of cooking on the salt blocks is that they withstand extreme temperatures,” says Berinson. “They give quite a theatrical effect, and they season the food as they’re cooking.”
Despite the perceived exoticism of Himalayan salt, it’s actually not that pricey. “It’s not an expensive salt compared to some of the other ones, says Berinson.”
Try Himalayan salt:
In the salt-cured wallaby at Vue de Monde.
Level 55, Rialto Building 525 Collins Street, Melbourne
(03) 9691 3888
On the avocado tossed with fetta, lemon, mint and pumpkin seeds at Combi.
Shop 1 140 Ormond Road, Elwood
(03) 9531 0084
Find Himalayan salt at:
342 Lygon Street, Carlton
(03) 9348 4815
543 Malvern Road, Toorak
(03) 9827 5736
Shop 26, The Block Arcade, 282 Collins Street, Melbourne
(03) 9639 6933
Shop 7–9, The Dairy Produce Hall, Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne
(03) 9329 1686
Salt Rooms Melbourne
Bell City Complex Suite 2 North Wing, 215 Bell Street, Preston
1300 773 511
137 Mount Alexander Road, Flemington
(03) 9376 8056
483 Lygon Street, Brunswick
(03) 9384 0288
277 Smith Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9419 5347
The Providore’s Table
17a Palmer Parade, Cremorne
(03) 9425 9477
Discover more about Connoisseur Himalayan Salted Chocolate with Vanilla & Almond at connoisseuricecream.com.au.