Rock of Ages

So much can be said about salt — far too much for one blog post! But here’s my take on a few things about salt worth thinking about, plus an introduction to my current favorite salt of the earth: desert salt. There’s even a little incentive/gift if you read all the way to the end of this post (as if you wouldn’t anyway).

As a chef, food editor, and writer, I’m often asked, “What’s your favorite seasoning?” Hands down, it’s salt! This glorious ingredient has been around since the beginning of time as we know it, with the earliest harvest thought to be in the Chinese province of Shanxi around 6000 BC.

The journey of salt through time and culture is fascinating and surprising. Salt has led to some of the worst conflicts in human history. It has captivated nations, queens, and kings alike; brought out the best and worst in humanity, and even caused wars. Just read Mark Kurlansky’s fascinating book, Salt: A World History, for a detailed account of its supreme power.

Controversial to this day, salt has a long rap sheet. This innocent mineral continues to take the blame for high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease, to name just a few maladies attributed to, or worsened by, salt. However, a little detective work shows that processed foods are the true villain, often responsible for containing unhealthy levels of salt, sugar, and fat. So why are they added, to begin with? Because these ingredients make food taste good, and when food tastes good, manufacturers sell more of it.

Regardless of all the controversy, your body needs salt. We literally can’t live without it. The human body needs about 500 mg (a bit less than ¼ teaspoon) of salt daily to function normally. Salt helps transmit nerve impulses, relaxes and contracts muscle fibers (including the heart), helps keep us hydrated, and possesses anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.

There are an overwhelming number of salts on the market, each with its distinct flavor profile, grain size, color, origin, and benefit. I’ve tasted countless varieties of salt, and as a matter of fact, I have an entire shelf of salts that range from mineral-rich Himalayan pink to sulfurous black from India. So, since salt is a vital ingredient to life, the salt we choose to ingest is up to us. But how do we choose?

Consider Desert Salt

Samantha Skyring, CEO of Oryx Desert Salt

Not long ago, I met Samantha Skyring, founder and CEO of Oryx Desert Salt, while attending the Fancy Food Show in New York City. I first tasted Oryx Desert Salt there — I immediately loved it, and Samantha! I love salt, deeply respect single moms (having been one), and I’m a huge supporter of women-owned businesses, so I was immediately interested in Samantha’s story. The idea for Oryx Desert Salt came to her after a tour of the Namib desert in South Africa. Walking 75 miles in a desert certainly gives one a clear understanding of the land beneath your feet. While there, she had several encounters with the oryx, a noble-looking species of large antelope with distinctive brown, black, and white markings.

Samantha shared a remarkable fact about the oryx. When water isn’t readily available, it can survive nine to ten months without it. She told me that although the animal can survive without water, it can’t survive without ingesting salt. So naturally, this became the company’s mascot and the perfect, iconic symbol for their desert salt.

The 50-square-kilometer (about 19-1/4 square miles) salt pan, from which Oryx Desert Salt harvests its marvelous mineral, is in the remote Kalahari Desert. I was amazed to learn a 55-million-ton underground salt lake feeds the salt pan. Samantha explained that underground rivers flow through ancient rock strata estimated at roughly 250 to 300 million years old. As the water flows through the rock, it picks up trace elements and essential minerals, which are pumped onto the salt pans and dried in the hot Kalahari sun, which reaches between 116°F to 120°F (47°C to 49°C). It only takes about four weeks for the desert salt to crystalize. What’s left is 100% saturated, brined, snow-white salt in its purest form, free of plastic microbeads or other pollutants, sadly found in sea salt today.

Samantha’s got sustainability and ethics covered, too. A percentage of all salt sales are donated to Kalahari communities. In addition, she partners with micro-enterprise women-owned businesses, which help create Oryx Desert Salt packaging, including paper cartons, and 100% cotton bags. The sturdy ceramic grinding mechanisms enable the grinders to be refilled and reused up to 50 times. And, because the grinding mechanisms are ceramic, the possibility of introducing microplastics into your food doesn’t exist, at least not from your desert salt.

From learning about and tasting desert salt, I think it is worth a try for its purity, sustainability, and excellent flavor. In stark contrast to the murky, troubled history of salt in general, the story of Oryx Desert Salt is lovely, transparent, and positive. Nice to have a little positivity with your (and my) favorite seasoning, don’t you think?

You can find Oryx Desert Salt on their website or at Whole Foods Market. Here’s a little gift from Samantha: When ordering from the webshop, enter Coupon Code DIANA10 for a 10% discount!

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this post and Oryx Desert Salt!

—Chef Diana

2 thoughts on “Rock of Ages

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