It’s the most common of seasonings, so ubiquitous and basic that we often don’t even think about it, and yet it’s one of the most important items in our cupboard, capable of giving a dish that little extra “something” that transforms it from ho-hum to amazing. I’m talking, of course, about salt. How many people do YOU know (unless it’s for health reasons) that don’t have salt in their kitchen? In my travels, I’ve discovered all kinds of unique and fascinating salts. From the north of Europe to the Pacific Ocean, all the companies we’ll visit mine their own salt, giving you a freshness, purity, and potency that you just don’t find in the mass-produced varieties. So let’s take a salty expedition, and I promise your kitchen will be better for the experience. (Note: I’ve listed with each company where their salt is actually harvested.).
MENAI STRAIT, WALES
I first discovered the remarkable salt of Halen Môn (www.halenmon.com) on a trip to Wales years ago, and it’s become a staple in my household. Located on the Isle of Anglesey, just off the coast of Wales, Halen Môn doesn’t just produce salt (as if providing their incredible product weren’t enough), but it’s an attraction in its own right, with tours of the production facility (which will re-start once Covid restrictions are lifted), a gift shop, café, and other products including an oddly amazing smoked water (yes, you read that right). First and foremost, though, is their salt, harvested from the Menai Strait just below their facility, and dried into crunchy crystals that burst with flavor. In the twenty-plus years since David and Alison Lea-Wilson founded Halen Môn (whose name means, literally, “Anglesey Salt”), it’s gone from being a little local producer supplying the island’s butcher to having its salt enjoyed by Barack Obama, served at the London Olympics, and featured as an ingredient in well-known Green and Black’s chocolate! Whether you get it in its pure form (chunky crystals or a finer flake), smoked over oak (my favorite), or enhanced by a variety of flavorings from vanilla to garlic to celery, there’s a robustness to it that I love, both in the salt itself and the various flavors. Hint: if you want to order it more locally, check out the offerings from the efficient folks at Rogers Collection (www.rogerscollection.us/the-collection/sea-salt), which carries just about all of Halen Môn’s products. I suggest you try them all: Halen Môn is that good!
NORTH SEA SALT WORKS
NORWEGIAN SEA, NORWAY
When you think of Norway, all kinds of pristine images come to mind. In the case of North Sea Salt Works (www.northseasaltworks.no), you can apply these images directly to their delicious salt. Harvested from the Norwegian Sea, their salt is a model of pure clarity, hand processed in their facility on the island of Gossen in the northwest of the country. Salt was actually a traditional industry of Norway, but faded away until recently, when a company like North Sea could revive the tradition in a manner that’s both organic and sustainable. Their signature product is HAVSNØ by North Sea Salt Works, and its ultra-clean taste is a product not only of the sea, but of the passion and care put into it in this family- run operation. The pure flake salt, as well as a variety with organic seaweed, are both available in the U.S., with the very fine and coarse salts possible by special order. Your best option for ordering is to visit Salty Provisions (www.doyoulovesalt.com), where they label the salt with their own brand, but it’s all done with that unique Norwegian salt, and you’ll find it in both pure or seaweed incarnations, as well as a plethora of flavors from Herbes de Provence to onion and garlic to coffee (yum). Salty Provisions’ Amy Beyer loves North Sea Salt Works’ product as much as I do: “The quality of their salt used as our main ingredient elevates our products to another level.” When that’s what the salt pros have to say, how can you go wrong?
TRUE SALT COMPANY
SEA OF CORTEZ, MEXICO
Arizona-based True Salt (www.truesaltco.com) isn’t about adding fancy flavors or…well, adding anything at all to the salt they harvest in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. As the name indicates, they’re all about the salt itself, and whichever degree of coarseness you order, it comes with a fullness of taste and crystalline texture that lets you know it’s the real thing. Says co-proprietor Kelly Egan. “It all comes down to the water. The Sea of Cortez is extremely pure. Also, it’s an all-natural process, with the wind and the sun. It really preserves the natural taste.” So that’s the story: pure, unprocessed, amazingly flavorful salt harvested by salt masters who have been hand-harvesting salt for generations. While you won’t find it all garlicked or herbed up, you will find various types, from their new Kosher to a cocktail salt just waiting for a margarita, or a flake salt that’s a perfectly elegant finish to a soup, main course, or even a dessert. If you’re lucky enough to live near a Smart & Final or Gelson’s (both west coast-based), you can find True Salt there, or you can always visit their website for instructions on ordering. Best of all, PASSPORT readers can buy shakers of Kosher salt directly from the website and receive a discount by using the code PASSPORT20. This salt is the real thing, and it couldn’t be better. A must for your spice rack.
HUMBOLDT BAY, CALIFORNIA
It was at Sonoma County’s Heirloom Fair that I first discovered the amazing salt from Pacific Flake (www.pacificflake.com), harvested from the clean waters of Humboldt Bay in California, it’s as delicate a salt as you’re likely to find. With its dense sodium content and cold currents coming down from Alaska, the waters off the Northern California coast are perfect for salt production, and the salt is boiled in stainless steel tanks to remove impurities and achieve the right salinity levels, then transferred to crystallizing pans for the eventual raking and drying. If it all sounds complicated, you don’t have to worry about the process, simply enjoy this incredibly clean and gentle salt, a fire-evaporated and small batch-produced artisanal salt that shows the care with which it’s made in every sprinkle. There’s only the one type of flake available, and proprietor Bryon Duty has no plans to offer different textures or any gussied-up versions. When you have a perfect product, why mess with it? While you can’t order directly from Pacific Flake’s website, the site provides you a variety of ordering locations so you can get your own taste of Pacific Flake. If you’re like me, you soon won’t be able to get by without it!
KONA SEA SALT
PACIFIC OCEAN, HAWAII
Deep down in the Pacific Ocean, 2200 feet below the surface, lies the raw material for Kona Sea Salt (www.konaseasalt.com), in waters that, believe it or not, originally flowed from Greenland. The upshot of this deep-water harvesting is a salt ultra-rich in minerals and free of surface adulteration. With their facility on the westernmost point of the Big Island, they’re able to make use of nearly always-shining sun to dry the salt. Of course it’s more complex than I’m making it sound, but their salt master combines Hawaiian tradition with modern technology and the results of her knowledge speak for itself! Flake salt is perfect for finishing your most elegant dishes, while the coarser variety is great for a grinder, adding flavor and minerality to your entire cuisine. For an added boost, try their Kiawe-smoked salt, or Japanesedescended furikake, a fishy seaweedtinge salt that’s perfect to perk up tofu or rice. Want an even bigger selection? Visit their sister company Sea Salts of Hawaii (www.seasaltsofhawaii.com), where you’ll find not only these Kona Sea Salts but salt harvested off the island of Molokai in a variety of naturally derived flavors like Hawaiian chile pepper, lemon/rosemary, and Maui onion. You can also get my two Hawaiian faves: Alaea (colored rich red with clay) and Uahi Black, made with activated charcoal from coconut shells. Even better: both companies donate 1% of proceeds to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (www.papahanaumokuakea.gov), the largest conservation project in the US. Great taste + good deeds = a winner.