Yet, beyond the fine white sea salt most are familiar with is a whole new world of naturally-coloured salts waiting to be discovered. Nurtured by the power of the nature and time, their colour and taste reflect the distinctive terroir and history of the origin. We take a look at five of these tinted grains that are worthy of being precious jewels in the culinary world.
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A kind of rock salt, the black salt is created through contact with volcanic charcoal and activated carbon underground. The most popular types include the Cyprus Black Salt and the Black Lava Salt from Hawaii. The black salt is a perfect match for dishes such as grilled white asparagus and veal, not only because it provides a contrast in colour, but also because it enhances the flavours.
Pink salt has become trendy over the last few years thanks to many upscale supermarkets introducing Himalayan Pink Salt. It is more than meets the eyes – Himalayan salt’s colour reveals the mineral composition in the particles. The darker it gets, the more minerals it contains. Such mineral content contributes to the subtle sweet notes in the salt. With a gentler flavour profile than varieties like Fleur de Sel, Himalayan salt is commonly used in cold starters.
When the salt is first mined, it appears as a large block, and needs to be shaved into small flakes before cooking. Obtaining this coveted condiment is no easy affair. Skilled local workers follow traditional methods to harvest the salt by hand in the Salt Range in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains.
Continents apart, pink salt can also be found among the Andes Mountains. The terraced fields in Maras, Peru have been fed with mountainous springs to produce the Peruvian Pink Salt since the ancient Incan times. Its Australian counterpart, the Murray River Salt, is born from a different type of terrain. High evaporation rate provides conditions for salt crystals to form in the mineralised brine, and the result is the gorgeous pink-orange grains enriched by the carotene from the surrounding algae.
Hailing from the mountains of Ergourz in Northern Iran, the Persian Blue Salt is the blue blood in the salt family. Some call it a “fossil salt” not without good reason. It was made million years ago and when the salt crystallised, it endured intense pressure so that the grain fractures light unusually. Its dreamy blue hue is generated in this way as an optical illusion like glaciers. The high price of this edible sapphire warrants it expensive pairings. The salt’s sweetness is the most pronounced when used with ingredients like foie gras and truffle.
The rare geographic conditions in Hawaii give rise to more than one speciality salt produced in the islands. Besides the Black Lava Salt, the Hawaiian Alaea Salt is another variety that absorbs what the nutrient-filled landscape has to offer. Alaea is a volcanic clay filled with 80 kinds of minerals. Its iron content is especially high to imbue the salt a fiery tint. It is usually applied on meat while marinating. The notes of hazelnut take dishes with fish, white meat or foie gras to the next level.
Sel gris de Guérande from French Brittany is one of the better-known grey salts. The sea salt is hand-harvested from June to October after crystallised. Weather plays an important part in the equation, as the harvest depends on days with adequate sunshine and wind, without which evaporation will be hindered.
Grey salt can be categorised into Tamisé (coarse), Sel Gris Fine and Sel Gris Velvet, according to the size of the grain. In terms of mineral composition, it contains iodine and less sodium than regular refined salt. Ideal pairings include salmon, and pot-au-feu.