The salt you and I eat today tastes nothing like what our great grandfathers and grandmothers ate. Back then, salt was harvested naturally and consumed pure—free from additives and without excess processing.
Much of the artisan traditions of salt-making have been replaced by mass-production techniques that yield subpar salt at a fat profit margin through cheap labor and corner-cutting. And many of the companies that once prided themselves in making the best salt have disappeared into history.
Happily, a few of these companies still stand. In this post, I’m going to tell you about one of them called Maldon, which makes sea salt flakes so tender, they taste like the sea and melt in your mouth like snow.
Made by the Maldon Crystal Salt Company, a family-owned British business that’s been around for almost a century and a half, Maldon Sea Salt comes in crunchy flakes that elevate the flavor of any dish.
There are many ways to enjoy Maldon Sea Salt, but the best one by far is as a finishing salt. Sprinkle some of it on your dishes after they’re done cooking—and it will add a profound taste of minerals and a tender crunchiness from the salt flakes that subtly melt in your mouth. “It’s like salty snow,” I remember my wife said when we tried this sea salt for the first time.
It’s ideal for sprinkling over grilled steak, roast beef, pork chops, all kinds of seafood, as well as fish and chips. Toss salad greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives with it for the best salad you’ve ever made. Add a pinch of it on freshly baked bread, pretzels, or focaccia. Rim your cocktail glasses with it for an irresistible Margarita.
Maldon Sea Salt, of course, can also be used as a cooking salt. It goes exceptionally well on sautéed asparagus and penne pasta with tomato sauce, to say the least. A few of my other favorite uses for it include sprinkling it on baked potatoes and seasoning coleslaw with it.
Maldon Crystal Salt Company, the makers of these salt flakes, is a fourth-generation family business in the coastal town and district of Maldon in the marshlands of Essex county, England.
Founded in 1882, the company has been producing salt on the high-salinity banks of the River Blackwater using traditional artisanal methods for almost 140 years. But its salt-making traditions date back as far as two millennia ago.
Maldon salt was initially harvested by the Anglo-Saxons, a group of Germanic Vikings who migrated to the British Isles in the third century AD, right around the fall of the Western Roman Empire. They dug clay pits into the marshes to collect the water on the high tides in spring, then boiled it in clay pots until all that was left was flake sea salt.
Today, the Maldon Crystal Salt Company is led by fourth-generation owner Steve Osborne. His great grandfather, James Osborne, bought it from a wine merchant in 1922 (Foodism). James passed the company onto Steve’s grandfather Cyril, who then gave it to his father, Clive.
Throughout the years, the Osbornes modernized technology and grew production, yet kept to their traditional salt-making methods.
At high tide, pumps fill a steel barge, which holds four week’s worth of seawater, docked on the River Blackwater coast. The water, as told by Bon Appétit magazine, goes through several settlement tanks and a few filtration tanks until, ultimately, it fills large salt evaporation pans.
The magic happens when these pans get heated. At first, the water is brought to a rolling boil to remove impurities. Then, the heat is brought down until salt crystals start to form on the surface of the steaming pan. Eventually, those crystals become heavier than the water, so they sink to the bottom of the pan. This is when they get manually harvested by one of the Maldon Crystal Salt Company’s salt makers.
The flakes are air-dried, packaged, and sold—full of flavor from the mineral contents of the high-salinity water and free from additives, unlike most of the other salts you and I are used to buying from the grocery store.
In 2010, two researchers at the North Carolina State University’s Department of Food, Bioprocessing, and Nutrition Sciences compared the taste profiles of 45 varieties of salt, including Maldon Sea Salt. They published their findings in the February 2011 issue of the Journal of Sensory Studies.
“All salts contained various amounts of trace minerals with the exception of table salt,” the researchers concluded (which is also why virtually any salt tastes better than table salt). Those trace minerals gave a unique aroma, flavor, and color to every other salt. They found Maldon Sea Salt to have an intensely salty, slightly mineral taste with a certain savoriness to it, as well as some astringency.
In 2012, the company received a Royal Warrant as the official purveyors of salt to Her Majesty the Queen, which is why you’ll see the royal coat of arms printed on the back of its packaging.
According to The Maldon Standard, Royal Warrants are carried by 850 British businesses who have supplied goods or services for a minimum of five years to the Queen.
The Osbornes also take sustainability seriously. Their company has been making continuous efforts to reduce its carbon footprint—and aims to achieve zero carbon emissions by the year 2025.
Only one salt maker can claim that it’s been around for 140 years, uses age-old traditions to hand-harvest salt, and carries a Royal Warrant from the Queen of the United Kingdom, and that’s Maldon.
If you, like me, think that there’s salt, and then there’s salt, you should definitely give this one a try.