The difference between table salt and sea salt is that table salt typically comes from rock salt, which is mined from mineral deposits. Sea salt is the result of a crystallization process of seawater, and in order to maximize the harvest process, traditional salt works are divided into two parts – evaporation and crystallization ponds. Starting in the spring seawater flows into the Salina (salt gardens). The water goes through the evaporation area, the larger of the two, in which solar energy is used to evaporate 80% of the water from the process. From there the water flows to the crystallization area where the salt precipitates.
First salt up under the ‘microscope’ is the Portuguese pure white sea salt. The Salinas found along the beautiful coastline of the Algarve, in the south of Portugal, were designed by the Romans. The facility, we visited, is located outside the small town Belamandil. It is a great example of this tradition was brought back to life.
In historic times, sea salt used to preserve food like salty cod, herring, etc. became a vital part of trade between Southern and Northern European countries. The importance of salt was so great, that the Portuguese regained Brazil – then occupied by the Dutch – by trading it for salt.
Contrary to industrial salt pans, the salt solution of traditional Salinas reaches the crystallization area at about 150 g/l and never leaves – by May the salt content has increased to 250 g/l, and salt begins to pile up. This allows the macro and trace elements that crystallize between 170 g/l and 250 g/l to form, including the magnesium salts that crystallize after sodium chloride. This is similar to the aging process of wine or any other food items that gets better with time.
It contains more than 75 minerals and trace elements that give the salt its unique taste and bouquet. Medical science has known for many years that these minerals are required for optimum body functioning. Sea Salt is a good alternative to taking artificial mineral supplements.
The seeds crystals that form each day on the warm surface of the salt crystallization ponds will become the Fleur de Sel (flowers of salt). Using a large spoon-like cloth filter, the workers gently harvest a thin layer of salt that floats on the water. This used to be collected by the saltpan workers for their home consumption, and they called it “the cream of salt”, as it is collected from the pan surface, like cream floating on milk.
Fleur de Sel (Flor do Sal in Portuguese) has a bouquet that naturally highlights food flavors, thus is the ideal product for discerning gourmets. Use Fleur de Sel in simple things like salads, fried eggs, French fries, and adding Fleur de Sel after grilling makes the meat softer, juicer, and tastier.
Number 2 we are investigating is the Fleur de Sel de Guerande Sea Salt. An all natural sea salt from Brittany, France. This particular Fleur de Sel is hand harvested in the town of Guerande between May and September. We visited Guérande at the end of July. It is the perfect place for a quit vacation.
The rugged part of France that faces the Atlantic is unspoiled by tourists. The coastline is just gorgeous: large rock formations are piled everywhere, giving one many opportunities to enjoy the magnificent view of the ocean. If you like food and traveling, this is a place you will never forget due to the charming coastal towns with enchanting small restaurants serving local food and fish.
The salt fields of Guerande are long and narrow. A so called ‘artisan paludier’ (salt harvester) sweeps the top of the evaporating sea water to harvest the salt. It is rich in trace elements, the flavor is the complex balance of the sea and her minerals, the texture is that of small flaky crystals with slightly grey/pink color. Like the Portuguese Fleur de Sel, this sea salt is typically used to finish a dish, as a condiment, rather than a spice.
Number 3 is Hawaiian Red Sea Salt
Where does the reddish tint come from? The reason is that during the harvesting process ‘Alaea is added to the salt. This gives it a slight orange/brown tint to the salt, which is completely tasteless and it doesn’t smell either. By adding ‘Alaea it significantly increases the health benefits of this salt. ‘Alaea is composed of over 80 different minerals that no other salts provide.
In ancient Hawaii, on the island of what is now Kauai, red volcanic clay called Alaea “met” Sea Salt when, during heavy rains, the red clay sediment seeped into the ocean from Kauai’s rivers. When this red ocean water became trapped in tidal pools, evaporation created Hawaiian Red Alaea Sea Salt.
According to the Hawaiians ‘Alaea Sea Salt tastes much better than any white salt, including the ‘Fleur De Sel’ from France or Portugal, but after a test at home, I decided that I like all three sea salts. The flavor of all three is different, and here is what I do with them:
– Salads, salsas, white fish, vegetables, fried eggs – Hawaiian or Portuguese sea salt
– Steak, grilled items like chicken, ribs, French Fries – Guerande sea salt
– Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, herring – – Guerande or Portuguese sea salt
So try it out for yourself, and let me know what you think.