A half dozen salts sparkle in the sunlight at a stand in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. They vary wildly in texture, size, color, shape, and, of course, taste.
The artisan salt trend has taken off in recent years, and with it, a deeper appreciation for the common mineral. Culinary creators are no longer limited to the taste of table salt, and health conscious consumers committed to the “farm to table” lifestyle have taken to them as a healthier alternative.
Still, salt gets a bad rap among most. We’re told by doctors to avoid ingesting extra salt at all cost.
But Kimarie Santiago wants to shake up that idea.
The Long Valley, New Jersey woman is, of course, biased. She owns the growing artisan salt empire, Saltopia, but her passion for preaching salt’s health benefits, is infectious.
And, she backs her bias with science.
“I’ve dedicated my life to having my two kids eat organic foods. I was struggling to afford organics, which obviously cost more, but I was buying the organic chicken and vegetables anyway,” said Santiago. “Then it hit me. ‘What’s really in these salts and seasonings that I’m using?’ That’s what triggered this whole craze for me.”
Like many people, Santiago hadn’t previously been concerned with the content of her salt shaker. The idea of non-organic salt — an ingredient that comes straight from Earth’s oceans or salt mines — seems perfect for satire. But common table salt bought at the store is far from its natural state, she said. It has been refined, processed and chemically altered to make it more marketable. Today’s table salt doesn’t clump in humidity, it is pure white, pours perfectly and has many of the trace minerals removed in order to provide a more consistent product.
Santiago found that the tactics factory-made salt companies employ are exposing consumers to bleach, anti-caking agents, pouring agents and other toxic chemicals.
“These are three common ingredients found in lawn fertilizers,” she said. “Technically the experts aren’t wrong when they say salt is bad for you — if you eat anti-caking agents, you’re destroying your body. But what they really should be saying is that table salt is bad for you — not unrefined salts. If you’re eating pure salt, all you’re doing is driving water to your cells to replenish them.”
Santiago suggests that people should talk to a doctor before changing diets drastically, but also said that salt alone has not been found to be responsible for heart attacks or other cardiovascular problems.
“Actually, you end up using less salt because you get more flavor from the same sized pinch of salt. You could cut back and have better tasting, healthier food.”
Saltopia, imports from 21 countries including Costa Rica, Brazil and as far away as New Zealand, each for their unique shapes and properties.
“We import two different types of salt from Hawaii, too,” she said. “A clay-based salt that’s really rich, and a volcanic black lava salt that’s so dreamy and luxurious.”
The Hawaiians believe volcanic black lava salt is great for digestive issues.
“We work really hard to understand the molecular structure of salt crystals as they are made by mother nature. Once we understand that structure, we try to marry that with a flavor that will merge nicely with that crystal. There’s a science behind it.”
The brand gained popularity through just a few flavors like lime and garlic salts sold at a farmers markets, and today sells nationwide, and end found a place in the 2015 Oscar swag bags given to celebrities at the Academy Awards.
A smaller scale salty operation
John Tarallo, co-owner of Steel City Salt Company in Pittsburgh, echoes Santiago’s salt sentiments.
“Anything you eat that is completely processed isn’t good for the body. If you look at Morton’s table salt, it’s actually brine salt, dehydrated, evaporated and bleached,” he said. “Your body is going to have a hard time digesting things that pure. Artisan or sea salts are mined and ground up — you notice the difference right away.”
Steel City Salt Company started supplying artisan salts to Pittsburgh about three years ago.
“My grandfather was really into cooking. He had this special salt,” said Tarallo. “He was Sicilian. It was this cool, flakey stuff. Fast forward a few years, and I kept coming across recipes for Himalayan salt, and I thought that it would be a really good thing to start offering here in Pittsburgh.”
John started working with an importer and today offers nine different salts including smoked Alder wood, habanero, garlic and truffle. But the Black and Gold gained a following (as those colors tend to do in the Steeltown). It’s a smokey, sweet, lemon and pepper salt.
“I think the city is on a really great food trajectory. People who wouldn’t have experimented before, are starting to try different flavors,” said John. “People are watching their health and being more mindful of what they eat. I think that’s just going to continue.”
Steel City Salt Company is looking forward to opening its first storefront in Millvale in this summer. Products currently range from $3.95 up to $18.95 and are available at eight locations throughout the city including the Strip District at 21st and Penn (Fri-Sun), House 15143 in Sewickley, Strip Market (at Pittsburgh International Airport), Staghorne Garden Cafe in Greenfield, and Penn Pantry in Harmony.
Looking to explore artisan salts? Try these recipes.
- 2 cups strawberries
- 1 tbsp sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 4 oz tequila
- 3 oz triple sec
- 2 limes, juiced
- TICKLED PINK SALTOPIA Sea Salt
- Ice & fresh strawberries to garnish
- Combine the strawberries, sugar and water in a small pot over low/medium heat. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook on low for about 20 minutes until strawberries have broken down and mixture is thick. Remove from the stove, pour into a Tupperware container or glass jar and refrigerate until chilled.
- To make the margaritas, add about a third cup of the strawberry syrup to a cocktail shaker (you be the judge according to how sweet you like your margaritas). Follow with the tequila, triple sec, lime juice and ice.
- Meantime, salt the rim of your glasses with TICKLED PINK sea salt. The best way to rim a glass is to scoop a healthy spoon full of salt onto a flat plate. Sift the plate so that the salt settles evenly. Then wet the rim of your glass enough to allow the salt to stick, once you begin the rimming process. Simply dip your wet rim onto the plate and turn several times within the salt to ensure the glass is thoroughly salted.
- Shake margaritas well then pour into TICKLED PINK rimmed glasses. Garnish cocktails with fresh strawberries and serve.
GREEK LAYERED DIP
- 1 cup crumbled Feta cheese
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
- KISS & TELL SALTOPIA Sea Salt
- 1 cup of your favorite hummus
- 2 cups fresh spinach
- 3 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 cup diced cucumber
- 1 cup diced grape tomatoes
- 1 cup chick peas (from a can is fine)
- 10 pitted Kalamata olives, diced
- In a small bowl, take your Greek yogurt and sprinkle with KISS & TELL sea salt to taste, stirring well. Set aside. In another small bowl, toss together olive oil, tomatoes, cucumbers, chick peas and more KISS & TELL to taste. Toss until the veggies are well-coated. Set aside.
- Separately, in a large, deep bowl (preferably clear so the “layering” can be seen) start with your hummus. Scoop all the hummus into the bowl and spread evenly. Then add a layer of fresh, raw spinach. Again spread the spinach leaves evenly. Now add your cup of KISS & TELL salted Greek yogurt and spread evenly. Now add your layer of tomatoes/cucumber & chick peas. Be sure to continue to spread evenly. Finish by tossing in the olives and Feta cheese to finish. Serve with pita chips and enjoy!
Baby Back Pork Ribs
- 2 slabs (about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds each) baby-back pork ribs
- Shot Well SALTOPIA Infused Sea Salt
- Vegetable oil, for grates
- 1/2 cup Barbecue Sauce (any favorite is fine!)
- Preheat grill to 400 degrees. Season ribs all over with SHOT WELL. Stack slabs on a large piece of heavy-duty foil; seal tightly, and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Cook until meat is fork-tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
- Heat grill to medium-high; lightly oil grates. Remove ribs from foil (discard foil); brush with sauce, coating rounded side well. Grill until nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve with more sauce and finish with more SHOT WELL to taste!
Also check out everybodycraves.com Crab Rangoon recipes using peachy apricot artisan sea salt dipping sauce.
Shop artisan salts and other specialty products at everybodycravespantry.com.