Salt of the Earth

Salt. it used to be the core of the spice trade, Romans were paid in it, humans have been preserving food with it for millennia.. Without it, our nerves couldn’t function, we couldn’t digest food, and yet we need less than one teaspoon of it a day to stay healthy…no wonder we’ve evolved to think it makes our food taste more yummy.

So it doesn’t surprise me that there are people out there devoted to the stuff –  to the extent of carrying round their favourite type in case of being caught in the face of an improperly unseasoned dish (see Jeffrey Steingarten’s article ‘Salt’), and the increasing availability of specialist salt types in supermarkets and delis; and even stores devoted only to seasonings.

I was in Melbourne recently and stumbled upon just such a place – a magical emporium of salts, spices and herbs in Block Arcade in the CBD, going by the gloriously European name of Gewurzhaus.

Racks of spices in the window caught my eye; I always make a beeline in the search for something new I haven’t tried before (which reminds me; I still haven’t used that panch phora I bought a little while back). I have drawers full of seasonings; spices and herbs, (though most of the herbs are fresh in the garden), dried native peppers and fruits.

On this occasion though it was the equally impressive racks of salts drawing me to the back of the store.  I have only pink Murray River, an ageing jar of Tetsuya’s black truffle salt, and rock salt at home, so I was seriously impressed by the range! There must’ve been 20 or more varieties, from the positively trad black truffle salt to the more esoteric vintage merlot salt (couldn’t think of a use for that, but it was a beautiful colour). Maldon sea salt drew a smile to my face, as I used to live not too far from there in the UK.  Gorgeous cornflower blue speckles in the Himalayan blue salt looked so pretty I knew I’d never be able to bring myself to use it:

There’s even a Bavarian Roast chicken salt – though what a Bavarian chicken looks like is probably best not investigated. Visions of chickens in tiny leather lederhosen and pork pie hats. *shakes head to remove disturbing visions*

In the end I plumped for the two most dramatic; black lava and salish alder smoked salts. The black salty crystals look amazingly stark against a pale background – I need to find a way to use this without it looking like black pepper, and to keep those wonderful big pyramids of crystal intact:

The Salish Alder smoked has an astonishing hit of scent as soon as you open the lid; imagine a smokery full of kippers, or smoked cheddar, a traditional smoked speck. Proper English smoked bacon. Smoky flavours make up some of the best, most reliably memorable foods ever, don’t they?  I’d had an amazing smoky tomato with my breakfast at Cumulus Inc that morning and immediately started planning my experiments with the fragrant crystals as soon as I got home!

I just can’t wait to use this one.

During my wanderings on the same visit I also came across a deli selling lemon salt; obviously my weekend for seasonings:

Produced by Absolute Natural, the flavour isn’t pronounced, but I’m looking forward to trying it on a nice delicately flavoured fish, or roast chicken. 

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