(Note: most images here are taken from the internet and are for illustrative purposes only)
I am a third generation salt producer. My grandfather and my father (all called John, by the way 🙂 ) have been involved with solar salt production one way or the other.
Indeed, my paternal grandfather made his fortune from importing sun-dried “salted fish” from the Gambia into Ghana. He then entered into salt production, coincidentally with my maternal grandfather.
My father followed, by managing the town’s saltworks for a while, after he retired from the Civil Service.
So you can say, in a manner of speaking, I have salt in my blood.
But as I grew older, I didn’t know much of this history. I was engrossed in the world of technology and finance and loving the thrill of cutting the next big deal or discovering a programming code that could make things happen quicker and better. I was on a roll!! Sitting in the office, late night after late night. Bloated and… well, you get the idea.
But when I decided to research on the body and natural food, that I realised the importance of even the salt that was used in cooking! Like my brother in law likes saying:
“nothing beats doing what you love…..and being paid for it!”
And I loved the outdoors!! Especially being near the ocean with the wind in my face and the sound of the the sea filling my ears, without a care in the world (yeah right! I still have bills to pay).
So I quit my job in a leading finance house here in Ghana, leaving a highly paid and career track to a future directorship behind and set out on an adventure.
That’s how I started my second business venture, and my lifelong obsession and romance with salt: a natural sea salt works at Apam, in the Central Region of Ghana: Crown Sea Salt Ltd.
But, one would ask:
What is salt and why is it so important?
In simple terms, salt is a basic compound, consisting of two elements: Sodium (Na) and Chloride (Cl), forming Sodium Chloride (NaCl), the scientific name for the mineral known as “Common Salt”. Going forward, we will use just “salt” to mean edible salt.
Now, throw out the chemistry book…..
…..and pick up your biology book.
Salt is essential to all animal life, due to their use of the mineral for the generation of nerve impulses (through electrical signalling in the nervous system) and for maintenance of electrolyte balance and fluid balance (water content) of the body and the individual cells that make up the body.
In animals, sodium ions are necessary for the aforementioned functions and for heart activity and certain metabolic functions.
In other words, salt plays a critical role in our very existence. So, it is not only that saltless food will taste bland, but it is essential to life.
Indeed, animals have worn out trails to location rich with salt. Trails that exist to this very day.
And if you have in anyway been involved with rearing animals, fish or poultry (as I have), you will know important salt is for the health of the animals.
Now, human beings are animals too, right?
All the science gobbledegook talk aside, salt is also used extensively as a preservative and a flavour enhancer. Without it, our food would be tasteless and bland and in addition, uneaten/unused natural food will go bad in record time.
However, despite it’s essential nature in our diet, salt has gotten a bad rap (undeservedly so…I will explain why shortly) in recent times.
Too much consumption of salt can lead to:
- Cardiovascular (heart) disease
- High blood pressure
- Stomach cancer,
But, here is where I get off the beaten path, as many have started doing too.
Not all salt is created equal.
In all the related and voluminous literature and opinions online and in written texts about how bad salt is, what stand out as the major health concern, is “high sodium levels”.
This is absolutely true. It is what causes all the health problems associated with salt.
It is the level or amount of sodium chloride in the salt that is the real culprit and the poster boy for the myriad of salt-related health issues. And largely, we can lay the blame squarely on the variety known as Table Salt or refined salt.
This salt is refined, deodorised, bleached (oh yes! Salt is never naturally PURE WHITE) and further processed so that at the end, all that remains is over 99% Sodium Chloride (NaCl – from your science lesson earlier, remember?).
Aside that, it more often than not contains an anti-caking agent which is a known potential carcinogen and has been linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease: Aluminium Silicate.
Now picture this: a chemical (Aluminium Silicate) that is used to keep salt dry by absorbing moisture (acting as an anti-caking agent to keep the salt free-flowing, and though it is “food grade”, it is similar to what is used in your store-bought clothes, shoes and bags – you know, the stuff that they say “do not swallow”? Yea, that one), is ingested into your body, that consists of 72% water within and without every cell. Can you imagine the kind of havoc that is running riot internally? Go figure.
A breakdown of the components of refined salt (you can check this from the packaging of any salt near you right now), typically shows the following:
Sodium – 39%
Chloride – 60%
Iodide (or potassium iodate) – 1%
As my friend’s mum will say, “there is salt and there is salt”.
Natural Sea Salt is totally unlike that.
All salt originally comes from the ocean. However, over Millenia, as the oceans receded and dry land appeared, massive deposits of salt developed underground. These are now usually mined as “Rock Salt”, with the most popular being Himalayan Rock Salt.
More traditionally, salt that is wrested from the ocean through solar evaporation, is known as solar sea salt.
We could leave it right there and everything would be fine. But no! We had to go and try to “improve” on what we already had.
These two natural salt types (rock salt and sea salt) are basically what are then further refined (literally refined, bleached and mixed with additives) to produce the table salt in the form that you know in your salt shaker or salt sachet/pouch.
However, natural sea salt has lower levels of Sodium and Chloride (ranging from a low of 80% to “high” of 98%) but that is not the only factor that sets it apart.
Natural sea salt is better than table salt, by a wide margin.
In contrast to refined table salt, most sea salt is naturally harvested and dried in the sun, and contains a wealth of trace minerals and electrolytes that are easily assimilated by your body.
Unlike refined salt which contains only 2 basic elements (Sodium and Chloride), natural sea salt contains about 80 different mineral elements and electrolytes (potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium and more) that are essential in small amounts for a variety of functions in the body. Sea water has that balance and so does natural sea salt.
These mineral salts and electrolytes are key in enzyme production, the immune system, adrenal and thyroid functions. Your body is designed to work with the salt to function effectively. Unlike what happens internally with the refined product, where the body literally fights it.
While, compared to food, salt is not a major source of minerals, like any whole food, natural sea salt has a natural balance and a lack of toxic additives, so we are actually nourished by it, rather than depleted, as we would be with the refined salt.
Below is a table tat shows some of the differences between refined (table) salt and natural sea salt:
When It comes to salt, Less is indeed, more.
Less sodium, that is.
Now, How is Salt Produced?
The processes of salt production are different, depending on whether it is refined or natural.
Most refined salt comes from large, highly mechanised operations.
This commercial refined salt has been harvested mechanically from various salt mines as brine or if from sea salt, as natural sea salt crystals, which are then dissolved into concentrated brine. Typically, when salt is planned to be refined, care is not taken to ensure it’s cleanness. After all, the refining process will get rid of all that dirt.
(Note: Brine is a highly concentrated solution of water and salt).
Prior to mechanical evaporation, the brine is often treated with chemicals or processed to remove minerals (which are sold for use in industry). The minerals are referred to as “impurities” in salt.
Next, water is evaporated from the resulting salt slurry, under high compression and heat which further disrupts the molecular structure of salt.
Finally, all of the remaining moisture in the salt is removed in a fluidized-bed dryer.
Typically we are talking of temperatures of over 648°C (1,200°F). Unless a vacuum is created, to reduce the heating temperature used.
After this, the salt is milled and anti-caking, free flowing, or conditioning agents are added. These agents may include sodium ferrocyanide, ammonium citrate, and aluminium silicate.
None of these products have any positive effects in the body.
Dextrose, also known as refined sugar, is sometimes added as a stabiliser, so that iodide will stay in the salt.
The final purity of “food-grade salt” is between 99.7-99.95% “pure”. In this case, “pure” refers only to the sodium and chloride content. The other “impurities”, including healthy minerals and elements, have all been removed from during the refining process.
Natural Sea Salt
The process of producing natural sea salt is a whole lot simpler:
Ocean water is channeled through a series of clay-bottom ponds.
Next, the wind and sun evaporate the ocean water gradually, leaving mineral rich brine in the final ponds in the series.
This concentrated brine is then transferred into shallow crystallisation pans, in which the salt starts forming as crystals as the rest of the water evaporates.
When enough salt crystals have formed, it is harvested, usually using special wooden rakes or corrosive-resistant shovels.
The harvested salt is heaped and left in the open, for the remaining water to drain out by gravity, before it is packed and bagged for sale. In Ghana, as required by law, potassium iodate is added to the salt before bagging.
And that’s it.
This method has not changed since salt production started, over 2,000 years ago and it is this gentle method of gathering the salt ensures that the salt will retain all the naturally-occurring healthy minerals and elements that are meant to be in salt.
At Crown Sea Salt, we take this process one step further.
As with a lot of the salt producers in the southwest of Ghana, after the brine has become concentrated, we use wooden brushes to “wash” the salt and remove any soil, clay or dirt that may be left behind in the pan. This is done before the salt starts crystallising.
With this done, we are left with a clean, white product, which moves from being quite translucent when first harvested, to almost white after the excess moisture drains from it and it dries further.
And this is what my family and friends use.
Salt from the sea…naturally!!
There is a huge difference between refined and natural sea salt.
Natural sea salt is packed with essential minerals and supplies the body with a proper balance of sodium and chloride with over 80 trace minerals and elements.
Refined salt on the other hand, has nothing aside Sodium Chloride and chemicals that do nothing for the body and might even be detrimental to our health.
Refined salt is a poor food choice and really has no place in our diet. Without the balancing effect of the trace minerals, refined salt provides the body with too much sodium. Ergo, all the health warnings that abound on reducing salt intake.
Sodium was meant to be ingested with its complement of trace minerals. The consequences of the ingestion of large amounts of refined salt are mineral deficiencies, acidity, and the onset of chronic illnesses.
A Note of Caution:
Like my mother says: “Too much of everything is bad”.
So is too much salt. It wouldn’t hurt to reduce your salt intake even when using natural sea salt. However, that being said, invariably, you will find yourself generally use less salt when cooking with or using natural sea salt for food anyway. And trust me, food will actually be tastier.
Now, after all that has been said, here is the commercial stuff:
You can buy your natural sea salt from us here and all of it will come from our own natural sea salt works in Apam, Ghana, along the Atlantic Ocean.
However, we are still working on packaging for smaller units of 250grams, 500grams and 1kg. So for now, we sell in 70+kg sacks, to retailers.
We are uncomfortable using plastics for packaging, so we have been looking for environmentally-friendly alternatives, before making the salt available in those smaller units.
One proposal that has come up is biodegradable plastics and we are looking at the cost in order to avoid having to sell our salt at a premium locally.
And the good news is, we will offer our 100% natural sea salt in either crystals, flakes or powder form.
If you are outside Ghana however, and don’t mind ordering online, I have done all the hard work for you 🙂 .
Click here and shop to your heart’s content, on the fantastic choices that have been compiled for you. You will be amazed at the variety of choices that are available. All natural.
Remember: It must be either Himalayan Rock Salt or Natural Sea Salt. In either case, it must be:
“Salt from the sea…..naturally!”