With its subtle tang and unique, briney flavours, gourmet sea salt is fantastic in all kinds of dishes from vegetables to sushi to roasts.
It's an obvious choice to finish off any savory dish, but would you believe that there are people who like to use it on desserts, too?
In fact, sea salt is a classic topping for many types of desserts from baked goods to caramel, but especially on that most beloved sweet of all: Chocolate.
Let's look a little closer to find out just what it is that makes sea salt and chocolate such a classic combination.
To put it in simple terms, it's all about contrast.
The crispy crunch of a nice sea salt goes well with the smooth, melting texture of good chocolate, while the salt offsets to sweetness to bring balance.
Sea salt also offsets the bitterness of dark chocolate to really bring out the depth of flavour.
Unlike simple flavours that can leave you bored after a few bites, the complexity that results from the contrast of salt and sweet will leave your taste buds intrigued enough to keep coming back for more.
If you want to get more scientific about it, human taste buds can pick up five basic tastes: Sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and savory (or umami, to use the popular Japanese term).
Chocolate on its own already has sweet down, and may bitter and savory too, if you're using a really dark chocolate.
But salt adds that saltiness along with trace notes of sour and bitterness to really round out the flavours.
This makes the taste feel more complete and more satisfying since the combination now hits every one of your flavour receptors.
Even a basic combination of sea salt sprinkled over grocery store chocolate can be delicious, but for the best experience of all, it's worth looking into high-quality brands that combine artisan sea salts with artisan chocolate for a truly sublime flavour. There are a lot of different options for high-quality salted chocolates, but one of the most unique is Madagascan chocolate-maker Madecasse. Established by two Peace Corps volunteers who make and package their chocolate right on the island of Madagascar where the beans are grown, this company is recognized not just for the quality of their product but also for being a pioneer in the field of social change and fair trade. One of their most unique offerings is their Sea Salt & Nibs bar, which blends a slightly dark chocolate with crunchy cocoa nibs and sea salt to make an almost savory bar with a lot of texture and great flavour contrasts. If you're used to buying your chocolate at the corner store, I can guarantee you've never had anything like it.
If you want something smaller than a bar but ultra rich, truffles are a great way to get that decadent, salty-sweet fix. There are a lot of companies that make these tiny, luxurious treats, but for a real classic, try salted caramels dipped in chocolate. One of the best-known makers of salted caramels is Fran Bigelow, who has been regarded as one of the world's finest chocolatiers since she opened her first patisserie over thirty years ago. Now a well-respected company in the world of fine candies, Fran's Chocolates is especially famous for their addictive chocolate-dipped caramels with smoked salt, but they also make a version with a grey salt for an even cleaner flavour contrast.
Finally, for those who really want to know the details of what they're eating, consider the Italian chocolate-maker Vanini. They offer a variety of salted chocolate bars using only artisanal, single-source chocolate and sea salt. The chocolate is made entirely from Amazonia Bagua cocoa, which is produced using an ethical partnership with the farmers along the Peruvian Amazon. This chocolate is one of the world's oldest cocoas and has been grown since 3000 BC, when it was used by the Mayo-Chincipe people as a beverage. Vanini pairs this ancient chocolate with an equally venerable sea salt. Their Trapani sea salt has been produced in the salt pans along the Salt Road in Sicily since the time of the Phoenicians and is still harvested using the same hand-raking methods. Its coarse, white crystals with their sharp crunch and clean mineral flavour make a fantastic contrast to the silky sweetness of Vanini's Amazonian chocolate. Vanini makes a number of different bars, but their 49% salted milk bar offers one of the simplest combinations of sweet, melting chocolate and crisp salt.
Weird as it may sound, salt and chocolate is an increasingly popular combination, and for good reason. The surprising contrast brings a fresh complexity that will have you craving another bite. If you haven't given this trendy treat a go yet, pick up a bar or even try making it yourself. With all the flavourful artisan options on the market, you're sure not to be disappointed.
Harvested in the most beautiful hues and shapes, sea salt is reflective of the mineral makeup of the landscape from where it is farmed.
The colours of sea salt hint of the minerals within - the rose-colored crystals of Himalayan rock salt, the grey of Atlantic or Celtic salt or the champagne hue of the delicate flakes of Australian sea salt.
Artisan salt is harvested, often by hand, in small batches from all over the world.
This makes the product expensive and sometimes available in limited quantities.
Purchasing sea salts from these artisan producers support their traditions of excellence and pride.
Many people don't realize what a difference using artisan sea salt makes instead of common table salt.
Fortunately, you don’t need to be a gourmet chef to use sea salts to unlock the full flavour of your favorite dish.
No matter what salts you love most, part of the fun is to keep several types on hand and try to use each for your favorite purpose.