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As a chef, how often do you really sit down to consider the simplest of ingredients in your kitchen? We mean the most granular of all seasonings – salt.  You may have asked yourself: How is salt made? Why is it called kosher salt?  What is the best kind of salt for cooking and finishing?  Why do we need it? 

Most chefs in large commercial kitchens are happy sticking with their Iodine-added or basic Kosher salts. However, this simple ingredient can make or break a dish, so we spoke with the founders and experts from Marisal to dive a little deeper and answer these questions.

A Brief History of Salt

The history of salt is closely related to the history of civilization.  As the human diet shifted from meats rich in salt to grains, nuts, and cereals, we needed to supplement our salt intake.  Salt not only adds flavors to food and acts as a stabilizer and binder, but it is also used to preserve food because bacteria can’t live in a sodium-rich environment.  Also, the human body needs salt to “conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles, and maintain the proper balance of water and minerals.”  

During the times of the very first chefs (fire is estimated to have been first contained by humans over 1 million years ago), tribes of our early ancestors would follow the game trails to salt licks and settle beside them.  These exposed salt outcrops were few and far between, though necessary for human survival, and salt became one of the world’s most important commodities and currencies – in the 6th century, salt was traded pound for pound with gold!

What's the difference between rock, iodized, sea, kosher, and table salt?
Photo by Marisal LLC

3 Types of Salt

As the price of salt soared, new ways of obtaining it were explored.  It can be harvested 3 different ways: mining from the earth, creating brines, and evaporation from sea water.  The mining method produces rock salt (aka halite) and is extracted through dynamite and other traditional mining techniques.  This type has many minerals and impurities and is usually used for industrial purposes.  

Salt brines are made by pumping water below the earth’s surface, bringing it to the surface, and evaporating the water (sometimes treating it to remove minerals and impurities) resulting in nearly pure sodium chloride (table salt).  This method is cheap, efficient, and produces a very clean product with little to no distinct flavors.  

According to many, harvesting salt from the ocean produces the ideal product for cooking, and it is this method our spotlighted vendor, Marisal, uses.  The Earth’s oceans are made up of 3.5% salt.  It can be naturally produced when shallow inlets or brackish ponds dry up in the sun.  On an industrial scale, we can create artificial ponds, known as “concentrating ponds”, add seawater to them, and let the sun and wind do the rest.  

Complex and distinct flavors can arise from the unique combination of minerals and other compounds found in the environmental surroundings of these ponds.  Artisan sea salt, like wine, can contain elements of terroir which is “the characteristic taste and flavor imparted to a wine (or other food product) by the environment in which it is produced.”

Hand Harvested Sea Salt outcompetes all other types in the kitchen
Photo by Marisal LLC

A Salt is Born

Several years ago, Aaron and Mar went on a trip to Mar’s hometown of Colima – a city of 150,000 in the west of Mexico near the Colima volcano.  They’re known for traditional food that utilizes local ingredients like corn, fruits, pork and seafood, including dishes like Sopitos and Colima Pozole.  

Aaron thought to himself “Wow, this would be a super high end gray finishing salt that would cost you a million dollars a pound and is being used on everything!”  He insists the stuff from Colima is the “best salt, hands down” and he knows what he’s talking about.  Aaron has worked in kitchens, nearly all of which “had Maldon finishing flake salt, which is good. It’s great – I’ve got no problems with it.”  But when he discovered what Coima has to offer, a lightbulb went off.

Aaron, a Chef by trade, noticed the high quality of salt that was used in traditional home recipes and by restaurants alike: “I went on a trip to Colima to visit my wife’s family and meet them, I saw the salt they had – it was being used everywhere, on the rims of Micheladas and beers, in every restaurant, and I was blown away!” 

To the right, you can check out our latest Instagram Reel featuring Aaron and Mar and hear about it in their own words!

And so, Marisal was conceived.  The salt is consciously sourced, sustainably harvested by Los Salineros de Colima, and maintains a “respect for tradition and the generations who came before them.”  According to Aaron, “brooms and shovels are used to hand-harvest Marisal Sea Salt. No machinery is involved in the process.”   Each bag brings “to you the aroma of the ocean” according to their Facebook page.  So, how does this differentiation affect the taste of your dishes? 

Marisal - From Colima Mexico is great for cooking, finishing, and curing
Photo by Marisal LLC

Marisal - A Salt Like None Other

Since salt is a flavor bonding agent, which type you choose to use in your recipes can kick your flavor into high gear. Marisal is changing the game when it comes to high quality commercial salt. According to owners, Mar and Aaron, the best salt is made with nothing more than water, sun, wind, and earth. 

Not to get too elemental, but they assert that when nothing else is added to nor stripped from the salt during processing, the best flavor profile can be achieved.  Through minimal processing, Marisal lets the natural terroir of this area of Mexico shine, resulting in a truly unique product whose flavors can not be replicated elsewhere.

The salt in Colima is nearly exclusively hand-harvested by a Colima co-op that spreads the wealth of the salt flats across the wider community. Thus, everyone can afford to use Colima product and, naturally, all choose to do so. “They were using it like every day salt, because it’s what they had access to” Aaron explains. 

Let’s take a step back and talk about Iodine, which was initially added to salt to combat past widespread iodine deficiency and is known to have a slightly metallic taste. Kosher Salt, along with Marisal and high-end sea salts, are iodine free.  Fun factit’s called kosher salt because “the size of its crystals is ideal for drawing moisture from meat, making it perfect for use in the koshering process.”  

Kosher and hand-harvested Sea Salt also have larger crystals, which are easier to handle, and dissolve less easily than their granular, iodized counterparts. So, as commercial cooking grew larger, iodine made its way into most ‘cheap’ salt. The processing of most table salt also strips it of the original minerals it contained leaving it ‘dead’, as Mar would say. 

In conclusion, high-end, iodine-free sea salt like Marisal is totally worth the extra dime.  The coarse, naturally evaporated sea salt is versatile and ideal for cooking or finishing dishes.  The unique flavor of Marisal is found nowhere else on the planet.  Your customers will truly be able to taste the difference and love the fact that they’re supporting a local vendor.  

Cheetah offers Marisal’s product in both 2.2lb bags and 22lb bags, and can deliver to your doorstep tomorrow! Be sure to follow our Cheetah Blog and stay up-to-date with the hottest food trends, most inspiring local food vendors, and tips and tricks to keep your restaurant happy, healthy and profitable!

 

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