Western Salt: pure and simple
An assortment of chefs, foodies and cooks are gathered in the boardroom of the Western Salt Refinery, right by the beach in North Coogee, just south of Fremantle. We read the company’s promotional leaflet and wonder what else we need to know about an ingredient we all use by the handful on a regular basis.
“Western Salt from Lake Deborah: An entirely natural product with low carbon emissions compared to other producers. It has a distinctive, mild and subtle flavour with a sweet finish on the palate and perfect for seasoning.” Let’s put that to the test.
Millions of years ago winds blowing across the Indian Ocean carried salt minerals inland where they accumulated in a vast lake 500 km north east of Perth, Western Australia.
Leilo Gaudieri, Western Salt’s CEO, hands out the high-vis jackets and carries on the Lake Deborah Story “Our salt differs from sea salt production because no thermal processing is required – sea salt is made from boiled brine or by constructing evaporation ponds.” Looks are exchanged around the room, not many of us knew that.
‘Lake Deborah’s harvest is all-natural,” continues Lelio. “The salt deposits were created by the rain and the sun. This natural cycle is repeated year after year with virtually no impact on the surrounding environment and it’s so isolated as to be free from man-made pollutants altogether. You should come up to the camp and have a look for yourselves.”
“Winter rain draws brine to the lake’s surface. Summer sun evaporates the brine creating a new 30mm layer of salt crystals all across the surface of the lake. Once dry they are simply scraped in to piles,” explains Lelio, keen to stress the difference between mining and sea salt processes. “We’re pretty proud of that and we put it on the front of the packet.”
Western Salt is certified for organic input by the Biological Farmers of Australia because its production uses no artificial chemicals or fertilisers and the harvesting operations follow the natural seasonal cycles of the salt lake.
The significance of this remarkable natural lake was recognised in 2012 by the Western Australian Government, with the Department of Mines and Petroleum declaring Lake Deborah a Salt Harvest Sanctuary.
Lelio and Jennifer
Hi-Vis Jackets fitted, we troop out past the mounds of unrefined salt, piled up in the yard like snow fresh from the lake.
The Lake Deborah brand has an international reputation for excellence, especially in Asia. It took the company 12 years of dedication and delicacy to place their product in overseas markets such as Japan, China and Korea Market. “They find our salt has a sweet after taste, its not bitter like other salts. They prefer to use it to make soy sauces, umbeshi salted plums and pickled vegetables. It is also is very popular for Ramen noodles.” Double WA Whammy; West Australian wheat is the wheat of choice for the Japanese Ramen and Udon noodle industry.
At the sizing and packing facility the salt is washed and then excess water is removed in a centrifuge, The clean salt is dried in a kiln and sent through the crusher before falling through a series of mesh screens to achieve the various crystal sizes in the range of Western Salt products. The coarsest grades are used for industry and swimming pools and the finest are for food grade.
Superfine – size 0.3mm to 0.7mm
Used for cooking, seasoning, finishing.
Flossy Salt or Curing Salt – size 1.18mm to 2.0mm
Used for finishing (Peter Manifis likes to sprinkle this on caramel topped desserts at his restaurant, Incontro) and as a cooking. Flossy is most famous as a curing salt.
Flossy is a perfect for curing because it is free from anti-caking agents, such as sodium aluminosilicate. Western Salt leaves these out of Flossy because they do not dissolve as readily as salt and can cloud brines used for pickling.
Brine draws water out of the meat and plant cells by osmosis – water in the less concentrated cell fluid moves out of the cell to redress the imbalance. This technique has been used to preserve meat for centuries because a high concentration of salt discourages the growth of spoilage bacteria while allowing harmless, but flavour producing bacteria to grow.
Adam Beliawski has experimented with Flossy Salt across his range of Poach Pear charcuterie and is a convert. “I can turn around a bacon or salt pork cure in four days rather than seven with Western Salt’s Flossy. Plus, I am getting a sweeter flavour.” True. The pan-fried salt pork he served at the end of the factory tour was as sweet as caramel salt candy. Only porkier. And crispier.
Used in salt grinders and also confectionary.
Although the salted caramel and chilli-chocolate confectionary ranges are trending high this year, Sarah Stone, Pastry Chef at Nosh Gourmet in East Victoria Park, believes the combination is so right it will be around forever.
“It’s not a macaroon and cupcake type fad,” she explains. “The Aztecs cut their cacao with salt and chili so it’s far more than a flavour trend. Salt actually sweetens our 64% coverture dark chocolate. Our chili and sea salt bar is already popular with chocolate connoisseurs and I’ve noticed those milk chocolate lovers who buy our caramel salted popcorn bar are moving towards the dark side via the salt gateway.”
Graphic courtesy of Cargill Salt*
I experimented with a teaspoon of all three grades of Western Salt in the season mix for these Chipotle – Maple roast almonds. All I can say is that this salt brings all the other flavours together in a sweet and subtle way, which is very different from ordinary, generic table salt. I can still detect un-dissovled Flossy and texture giving Bubble that burst in the mouth with intensity but no bitterness and the flavours seem to be rounded off in a delicious, deep balance of sweet and savoury.
Isn’t salt bad for you?
Salt fulfills many vital functions in the body including maintaining fluid levels in cells, transmitting messages along the nervous system and helping our small intestine absorb vitamins and minerals. But, wait, isn’t salt one of the dietary Bad Guys? Shouldn’t we be reducing salt in our diets to reduce hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes risks?
Like many popular dietary tales knocking around social media, over-consumption of salt stories are based on data from the American diet, 80% of the salt in which comes from pre-prepared and processed foods 1.
If you are eating in restaurants that prepare from scratch and you cook the same way at home you can control your salt intake.
As with all the best dietary advice, the key word is Moderation. Also, the label “average person” is a disclaimer. Have a look at this video from the New England Journal of Medicine.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ev9HS0iHlro
The Dietitians Association of Australia recommends 2.3g of sodium per day – which is equivalent to about 6g of salt – for an average person.
The trick is to save up your daily salty hits for the very best of the good stuff, and then balance it out with less salty foods. Quite simple, really.
Is Western Salt really natural?
What about man-made anti-caking agents? Jennifer Gallanagh, Quality and HSE Manager, has clearly heard the anti-additive lobby’s question before. “Table Salt is designed not to clump due to the shape of the crystals. However, we also use a minute proportion of an anti-caking agent called Sodium Silico Aluminate aka sodium aluminosilicate. Table salt is only a small component of our range.”
For those concerned about anti-caking agent poisoning, dietary sodium aluminosilicate has never been linked to any kind of toxicity in humans2 who are not snorting it or rolling in it.
But what about the refining process? “Even though it is heated during processing, our salt is definitely natural, because it is formed by a natural cycle. It’s just the wind, the rain, the sun and the lake.” Jennifer, like Lelio, is immensely proud of Western Salt. And rightly so.
* Graphic courtesy of Cargill Salt In Perspective
1. Marion Nestle in her excellent blog Food Politics, in 2014
2. No levels relating to toxicity in humans have been recorded by the FDA, the FAO nor the Codex Alimentarius.