Humble salt, that most universal of all condiments – used wisely, it has the rare alchemical power to uplift, transform and bring food to life. In culinary terms, it is unprecedented in its ability to amplify the natural flavours of a whole dish or a single, naked ingredient – just try sprinkling a few flakes of Maldon salt over the first of the summer’s tomatoes and you’ll see what we mean.
Homer called it a divine substance and Plato described it as “especially dear to the gods”, while salt lover and UK food writer Jay Rayner once observed that “admitting to a fetish for salt is akin to fessing up to a smack habit, only it's slightly less socially acceptable.” And we’d tend to agree – both on the fondness for the white stuff and the point about it being considered somewhat shameful to openly declare salty love.
Truth is, proper artisan salt production was commonplace all around the world up until the advent of industrial salt manufacturing in the late 1800s, and regrettably, it’s the ubiquitous, commercially-produced table stuff that has given this once revered seasoning the undue bad rap.
Thankfully that’s all now changing, and with a recent wave of specialty salts coming onto the local market and into our restaurants there is much to celebrate and discover beyond the old Saxa shaker.
Here, we take a closer look at six unique and notable salts from around the world to add to your pantry.
Fleur de Sel Guerande
According to ‘selmelier’ (salt expert) Alice Bell of spice house Gewurzhaus, fleur de sel (flower of salt) is considered ‘the caviar of salts’, due to its rarity and high price. Sourced from Guerande, in France’s Brittany region, the harvesting process for fleur de sel sees only the youngest crystals from the very top layer of the salt ponds gathered up by hand, via a very delicate skimming of the pond’s surface. Grey-green in colour and with a slightly moist texture, this salt is revered for its very delicate flavour. A natural complement to steak, salads or crunched between your fingers and sprinkled on tomatoes or crudités.
Fumée de Sel
Fumée de Sel is a smoked salt that takes premium French Fleur de Sel crystals and slow- smokes them over old oak wine barrels or oak chips. The slightly moist crystals readily absorb the delicate smoky flavours and aromas – taking on a slight sweetness and a light toasty russet colouring in the process. Producers commonly use old French oak barrels that have previously been used to age Chardonnay, so it’s not unusual to detect some of the wine’s subtle aromatics, too. A good choice for recreating the campfire/ BBQ vibe, this one is best used as a finishing salt for meat, poultry, egg or potato dishes.
Cypriot Volcanic Black Salt
With large, flaky crystals, this salt starts off as white Mediterranean sea salt and is then combined with activated volcanic charcoal (from Cyprus) – transforming it to a dramatic black colour and adding a subtle smokiness. The salt’s striking appearance makes it an ideal finishing salt or a garnish for cocktails, while food-wise, it offers a great visual contrast to pasta, salads and vegetable dishes. The large flakes give plenty of textural crunch and we’ve seen it sprinkled on crème fraiche and working magic with chocolate and caramel desserts, too.
Persian Blue Salt
Harvested from an ancient underground salt lake in northern Iran, this unquestionably pretty and somewhat noble variety is one of the world’s most rare and highly sought-after salts. Due to tectonic pressure and plate movements, the salt takes on the blue colour of the mineral sylvin, and as a consequence, its distinctive appearance is studded with jewel-like, azure coloured crystals. Dry, coarse and chunky in texture, with a clean, sharp taste, this one is best suited to grinding. Works well with white fish or carpaccio or as a garnish to cocktails.
Not so much a natural born salt as a concocted blend, dashi salt makes a wonderfully pungent accompaniment to Japanese cuisine. Chef Teage Ezard makes his by combining sea salt flakes with dashi granules (a type of Japanese stock) along with shredded roasted nori (sea weed), sesame seeds and dried bonito tuna flakes – the latter introducing a distinctly savoury umami element. The resultant blend is undeniably oceanic, which means it pairs well with a wide range of fish and seafood dishes, especially with a squeeze of fresh lemon in the mix.
Sicilian Sea Salt
On the northwestern tip of Sicily lies La Via del Sale (the Salt Road), where the good stuff has been harvested from natural saltpans since BC times. Favoured by the chefs at Baby, Sicilian sea salt has a robust flavour profile and is said to contain a higher concentration of potassium and magnesium than common salt. A lack of chemical processing means that trace elements are maintained – enhancing the salt’s flavour, while the volcanic rock surrounding the area lends a distinctive sweetness. Good all-rounder, especially for rustic Mediterranean dishes.
Gewurzhaus stocks a range of over 30 specialty salts and salt blends.