If there is royalty amongst sea salt
Fleur de Sel would be it.
French sea salt is acclaimed by top chefs the world over and is also the most expensive sea salt there is.
So let's have a look and find out if all the hype about French Fleur de Sel is warranted.
Literally translated as "flower of salt," Fleur de Sel gourmet sea salt is one of the finest and rarest salts in the world.
It is defined not only by its collection method, an ancient type of hand-harvesting, but also by its location.
With so many other sea salts in the world, though, what makes this French sea salt so special, and why is it so expensive?
There are a variety of sea salts on the market, but there is nothing quite like French Sea Salt - Fleur de Sel just stands out in so many unique ways.
Grey sea salt
The color is gray or pinkish, due not to processing but to the sand and algae present in the reservoirs.
The texture is fairly unique, too. It's a moist salt with up to 10% water content, and the flakes are delicate crystals. Once you see them, you'll understand why the French call it "flower."
The flavor, of course, is what everyone is looking for. It's very delicate, with a haunting aftertaste that will leave you thinking of the ocean. Table salt tastes almost bitter in comparison with it.
Due to the subtle flavor, to say nothing of the price tag, it's a waste to use this French sea salt in ordinary cooking or baking where its unique taste will be lost in the final dish. Instead, use it like the chefs do as a finishing salt.
The fine tang and airy crispness of the flakes are a beautiful last touch on dishes as varied as lamb chops and caramels.
If you're wondering why anyone would pay this much for simple salt, get a little and compare it with that big box of table salt you've been using.
I guarantee you'll find you've been missing out.
French Sea Salt is harvested in France just off the coast of Brittany in regions such as Guerande, which is known for its salt marshes.
The town of Guérande and the nearby islands of Noirmoutier and Re’ have the only remaining, traditionally-hand harvested salt marshes in France.
Salt sold in the three locations are labeled with the name of origin, so salt from Noirmoutier is called Sel Marin de Noirmoutier and salt from Guérande is called Sel Marin de Guérande.
Salt was being harvested in Guerande as early as the year 868.
The salt was gathered by women only, since men were considered too rough for the delicate work, and it was carried into town in heavy bowls which the women carried on their heads since the paths were too narrow.
By the year 1500, the salt marshes had expanded to cover over 1200 hectares, about 80% of the current size. They're currently so big that they actually show up on some maps of France.
Guerande's salt marshes with their lady harvesters supplied most of the salt throughout Brittany until the mid-1800s, when a salt mine was built and provided heavy competition.
Together with a tax imposed several decades prior by Napoleon Bonaparte himself, this led to the Guerande's downfall as a purveyor of table salt throughout the region.
Celtic (pronounced kel-tic with a hard "c") sea salt has been produced by the same hand methods of "salt farming" off the Brittany Coast for centuries.
It is naturally air and sun dried in clay ponds and then the entire harvesting process is done the traditional way by hand with wooden tools.
The only machines involved are the trucks that take the salt to be packaged and shipped off.
The salt is unrefined and so contains all 84 elements found in sea water and is unadulterated with no anti-caking additives or bleaching.
This is the historic way salt has been produced for thousands of years and is the kind of salt spoken of so favorably in the Bible.
These water reservoirs are fed by channels carrying sea water. When the tide is high, the reservoirs fill; when it goes out, the remaining water evaporates until there is just an inch or two left.
Once the water is low, the salt crystallizes in two layers - this is when the magic starts happening.
While they now use men in addition to women and carry the salt in wheelbarrows instead of in bowls on their heads, the entire harvesting process is still done the traditional way by hand.
The bulk of the 15,000-ton harvest comes from the coarse, gray salt below the surface, which is harvest mechanically. It's also a fine product, but it's no comparison to the Fleur de Sel gourmet sea salt that floats above it.
It's also a fine product, but is no comparison to the Fleur de Sel gourmet sea salt that floats above it.
Natural celtic sea salt is light grey in color, which comes from the sea minerals and clay found in the salt flats. The clay ionizes the minerals in the salt, making it even more beneficial.
There are several other towns in Brittany that also manufacture a product of the same name, but their methods are slightly different, so the product comes out a distinctly different.
In addition to the French salts, a similar salt has also been hand-collected in Portugal and Spain throughout history.
A fleur de sel is also been hand-collected both in Canada near Vancouver Island and in Brazil.