Do Fancy Salts Actually Taste Better?
Clockwise from left: Hawaiian black, Sel Gris de Guérande and Hawaiian red salt.
You have probably seen the ads. Fancy salts at exorbitant prices. Prices so far above humble table salt --upwards of $10 an ounce for black truffle salt versus less than 10 cents for Mortons-- that the only explanation could be that they are handmade from the tears of angels and dried in the perfect sunlight of the left slope of Kilimanjaro. The praise heaped upon "natural" sea salts can be unreal, as are the Olestra-like claims of a panacea of health.
Aaron and Liz Eckburg, the owners of Fountain Hills based Go Lb. Salt, offer everything from slabs of Himalayan salt to black truffle salt. They tend to steer clear of the salt hype and instead focus on the most important question: Do fancy salts actually taste better?
Surprisingly they do, and they posses a texture that you are unlikely to pour out of container of Morton's anytime soon. Without delving too deeply into the importance of evaporation rates, crystal formation, and mineral content let's just say this: The process of making sea salt yields large salt crystals that retain the flavor of the places they are made. What is more, salt can be smoked as it dries and this allows it to be imparted with an even wider array of flavors.
Aaron explains that the black truffle salt is an excellent example of this. The base salt is a fleur de sel, French for "flower of salt." The individual crystals are much larger than normal sea salt. Fleur de sel is very wet when first harvested and must be dried before it can be used. Truffle shavings are mixed into the salt at this point and their flavor is imparted upon the salt as it dries. The end product is a piece of salt with a powerful truffle flavor and a delicate crunch. As an added benefit, the salt acts as a bacteriostatic agent which prevents bacteria from breaking down the truffle oil. This allows truffle salt to retain flavor much longer than truffle oil by itself.
Aaron half-jokingly considers himself a "selmeiler" and he is more than happy to offer pairing suggestion and other cooking tips for his array of salts. He notes that the large crystals and distinctive crunch of Hawaiian black salts make them excellent for salads. His Bolivian rose salt is smaller and has a more delicate taste, making it betters suited for fruits and grilled vegetables. Speaking of grilling, food can be directly grilled on those enormous slabs of Himalayan salt he sells.
Aaron and Liz weren't always selmeiler. Before they sold salt at farmers' markets they sold manufacturing equipment. It was on a trip to Hawaii and a plate of the best poke Aaron has ever eaten that set those wheels in motion. Aaron, a self-described foodie, could not help but ask the cook what the secret was. To his surprise the cook insisted that the taste of the Hawaiian black salt is what made all the difference. Sadly, it was virtually impossible to find anyone who exported real Hawaiian black. Undeterred he and his wife decided to get into the exporting business themselves.
Go Lb. Salt sells their salt by the ounce at farmers' markets throughout the Valley and can be reached through their webpage or Facebook. While we only had a chance to sample their salts they also sell pepper and flavored sugars.
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