Sunday, February 26, 2006

Worth My Salt

This weekend Northern California is experiencing a minus low tide, meaning that vast expanses of shoreline that are normally underwater are exposed. I thought it would be perfect conditions for gathering fresh kelp.
I didn't want to collect any sea life on protected beaches, because it's against the law, so Cranky and I went to a beach in a town noted for fairly casual policing (and I don't think it's a state preserve or park). But. Darn. Even though we were able to walk out on the wet sand for yards and yards, there was no seaweed.
I met a woman there who informed me I'd have to hike about a half mile to the north to find specimens. But it was growing cold and late, and I decided "another time."
However. I did fulfill one of my long-standing fantasies. Some of you may remember that last August, I tried to boil down Pacific sea water for salt. And I was stymied.
I vowed I'd try again, and yesterday, I hit pay dirt. Er, ocean.
Scaling down our ambitions a bit, we gathered a mere three liters of water. I filtered it through cheesecloth and then set about boiling it on my gas range in a stainless steel pot. Two hours later, I had about three ounces of handmade fleur de sel!
Salt is what makes things taste bad when it isn't in them. ~anonymous

OK, maybe not fleur de sel, but definitely Sodium of the Sea.
It has a slight beige hue, is still a bit moist (I stopped the boiling before it got bone dry), and clumps in lovely little flakes.
It tastes like salt. I'm very proud.


73 comments:

McAuliflower said...

Cool project, but I'm waaaay too cynical to go collecting ocean water to make salt.

Even up here in clean green Oregon.

There are way to many reports of sewage dumps in the ocean and in city traversing rivers to make this a project for me.

Perhaps if you went 50 miles off shore...

cookiecrumb said...

Sshh! You'll worry my Mom. She's already worried.
The water was extremely boiled. I'll just have to hope that killed the krap. (Plus, I have a pantry so loaded with various salts, I'll never have to buy salt again. I'll probably only use this Marin Local for a lark.)
50 miles? Sigh...

Jennifer Maiser said...

Wow - it looks like the real deal. Yippee!

Sam said...

mission accomplished!

Melissa said...

coool!

Joanne said...

I'm sooo impressed. Love it! So how does it taste?

Jack says you need to go make Fleur de Sel butter with your salt.

I'm just so impressed.

Congrats!

cookiecrumb said...

Well, I guess I should come back here and tell you how easy it was. So don't be impressed. I was so gratified to watch the brine begin to form crystals. It actually seemed to thicken up. Then I could see "seeds" of salt in the liquid... and only minutes later, it was done!
As for health concerns: I figure if they allow surfing and swimming at this beach, I can tolerate a few mouthfuls of it.
Joanne: How does it taste? It's surprisingly, deeply, salty. Moreso than kosher salt. But the minute it dissolves on your tongue, you detect a clean sweetness. I'm so pleased! (Can't really perceive much mineraliness.) The moistness is nice.

laughingrat said...

That is so extremely nifty. :-D

mrs d said...

Does living on an island count toward the 50 miles off shore?

Hmmm... prolly not.

I'm a bit of a water wuss like mcauliflower, but it does sound tempting (and easy!).

Hey! We have a -1.6 tide tonight at 8:52pm! I'll just wade out there in the dark, deftly dodging the Portuguese Man-of-Wars and scoop up a bucket of freezing cold Orca piss. Or maybe not. Nah. I'll stick to that wacky pink Hawaiian stuff we got at the store. :-)

cookiecrumb said...

See, Mrs D, that is just so nelly. Go. Put on the waders and get a coupl'a bucketfuls. I believe orca piss is sufficiently salty.
(My mom thought I was hallucinating when I mentioned pink Hawaiian salt. I set her straight.)
Laughingrat: Gratuities! Merci.

b'gina said...

This idea has been fascinating me for ages. I do remember from Micro in college that there are very few things that can survive a highly saline environment, which salt surely is. And anything that could survive it is probably killed by the boiling.

Good going.

Cyndi said...

Way to go. I want to give it a try--I just don't know when I'll be near the ocean again. But that sounds like it was fun to do.

Kevin said...

CC,

Very cool.

Gustad said...

That is so cool that you made fleur de sel!!
I really love salt. It is amazing at all the kinds out there and the different flavors and textures it gives to food. Ever since about 2 year back, the only time I will use that lil round box of standard iodized salt is for pasta water. I keep at least 4 different kinds of salt on hand at all times

drbiggles said...

Yeah, now go through it in the smoker for a day!

Dagny said...

Very impressive.

Pyewacket said...

That is the coolest thing. I'm definitely going to try it on my summer vacation this year.

Pim said...

Someone once gave me a jar of Fleur de Sel de Big Sur. Apparently there is someone in Big Sur doing this for a living.

You are not that mad after all. ;-)

cheers,
Pim

Tania said...

What an amazing project!!

michelle said...

You did it! I'm so proud! There's just something cool about making your own salt - I can totally see you on Survivor kicking everyone else's butts with your foraging and salt-making. Bravo!

cookiecrumb said...

Here's the deal, everyone. I'm still pretty stoked about my success -- I thought I'd be up all night boiling the water down, and I thought I'd only get a couple of teaspoons of salt. But it's super, super easy.
Just be sure you trust the sea water.
So, as amazed as I am with myself, No Big Deal. :D
(Yeah, Michelle, me on Survivor. "Uh, anybody care for a salted weed?")

drbiggles said...

Fleur de Weed.
And you can put your WEED in it.
And again, I say put it in your smoker ...

Sam said...

hey - you've changed your email address. Is that because you don't want me sending you private emails?

John Thornton said...

You are so my hero. I'd be off foraging right now if it wasn't, you know, dark and snowy.

McAuliflower said...

biggles- mmmm green salt. you're not in Eugene are you? ;)

yeah... smoked salt...

KathyF said...

You are the blogger we all look up to.

(You have heard about how large whale ejaculations are, haven't you? Do you suppose...)

KathyR said...

You made salt. Who makes salt? You're amazing.

And, KathyF, that's just gross.

Jamie said...

You've done it! And I would do it, too, in a heartbeat, but I *know* not to trust the Gulf of Mexico after last fall. I'm still not back to trusting Gulf shrimp!

Maybe someday...

cookiecrumb said...

OK, Biggles, I'll smoke half of it. I got two little jars of it.
Sam, nope, same address. Months and months ago I screwed up with SBC and had to add the "1" but it's been the same for ages.
KathyR: Thanks for policing smut-mouf KathyF. :D
Don't worry, Jamie. You don't even (barely) like shrimp. (Boy, would I avoid the Gulf, though.)

kudzu said...

I'm as impressed as the legion of retorters with your salty exploits, but this is in response to something else.

After reading the rice bread post, I posthaste ordered the Fowler book and it arrived on my doorstep just this morning. The pages are damp from my salivating over those recipes and I can't wait to whomp up some of them. Thanks for the inspiration. It's a wonderful, wonderful book.

For those who forget too quickly: New Southern Baking by Damon Lee Fowler.

Sam said...

ok - i must have dug out an old versions sans 1
will try encore

vanessa said...

cookiecrumb, bitchin' post. that is so cool that you made your own salt. if you're really curious about "utah salt" i'll be adventurous next time and scrape you some of the white stuff from the Great Salt Lake's coast. you may find some sea monkeys in it :)

cookiecrumb said...

I dunno, Vanessa. I hate chewing sand. :D
Everybody else: Vanessa sent me a bag of Redmond Utah salt, and it's good. Clean and mineraly. And pinkish.
(Vanessa also sent me two types of moist Korean salt, all chunky and naive and wonderful.)

Clare Eats said...

Very nice!
I found some natural crystals in the coast at a wilderness area and I had to try it...

Just to be devils advocate, I don't think you are worried about bacteria, more likely the heavymetals etc that you are also concentrating in your salt ;) .....

bobbie said...

very cool, thanks for the tip - we're on the far other coast in the north, so as long as it's not red tide we'll give it a try!

oh, and i've smelled the 'great salt lake' i wouldn't eat anything that came from there!

cookiecrumb said...

Bobbie: I think it's safe if you're not making it your primary source of salt. For us, it's just a lark. A small lark. ;)
However! I have a sack of *stellar* Utah salt -- not from the lake, but from ancient salt mines.

Anonymous said...

Awesometastic.

I've been to a few gourmet foodie types (visiting Girlfriend and meeting Girlfriend's Parents in San Franscisco eventually led me to Dean & Deluca's in...wherever the hell that was).

I was entranced by all the different salts with their various hues, though the cynic in me wondered if there really was any kind of difference except slighly different mineral content.

On thing they didn't have, of which I am a huuuuuge fan is truffle salt!

http://www.saltworks.us/shop/product.asp?idProduct=317&gclid=CP6avuTK_IMCFSULGgodXDoEjg

It's amazing and lasts forever because you only need a liiiitle bit. It's great on eggs, tomatoes, avocadod, and just about anything else.

S'awesome.

Claire said...

I doubt making a small quantity of salt like that would adversely affect your health, but I certainly wouldn't eat it on a regular basis. Anything alive such as bacteria/virus/algae/etc will certainly be killed by the boiling. However, I'd be concerned with pesticide residue and heavy metals being present in the sea water close to the coast in places... and those may just get more and more concentrated as you boil off the water, just as the salt does.

Anonymous said...

this is a totally serious question, if you all are worried about the residues etc on this stuff, why is the regular stuff ok?
i buy sea salt cos it's better than the iodised stuff, right?
but if it's sea salt, why is it any cleaner than this home brewed stuff?

cookiecrumb said...

It's a good question. I suspect the difference is in where the sea water is collected. I'd never collect water from inside the Bay or near any industry. But strangely, Diamond Salt is evaporated in ponds right alongside the SF Bay. Weird.

Anonymous said...

and then there's tides and currents and streams ... not to mention oil tankers ..... i'm thinking, does anyone actually care? or do they just market that stuff happily and let you ingest whatever?

cookiecrumb said...

Well, McAuliflower and Claire are scientists... maybe they'd like to run some tests!
:D

cookiecrumb said...

PS: Anonymous -- And Michelle is a scientist too.
(Any others? Speak up!)

Wren said...

Thank you for the inspiration! I went out an gathered my own sea water up here in Northwest Washington and set to making my own salt. But instead of spending fossil fuels on evaporating the water, I let the sun do the work.

I put about 1/3 of a liter in a super shallow cookie sheet and left it in the sun all day. I added another 1/3 of a liter the next sunny day. One more 1/3 of a liter and one more sunny day and I was left with a nice little pile of sea salt courtesy of our friend the sun, a 10-block bike ride, and a little patience.

Thanks again for the inspiration!

cookiecrumb said...

Hi Wren: I hope you come back and read this. I'm inspired by your solar evaporation! It was too gloomy a time of year for me to try that, but when I learned how fast it boils down, I have no doubt that using the sun will be the best way next time. I hope you got the purest, most pristine water!! Congratulations.

ftsquid said...

Coincidentally, I tried the very same thing this weekend with Atlantic Ocean water, and it didn't work out quite so well. I basically now have a gallon and a half of brine with some lacy crystals on top, but nothing to harvest, really. I also ended up with sludge at the bottom - grayish, very pasty, almost like clay,mostly tasteless. I poured the brine off the top and left it by the window to evaporate. We'll see what happens when I go back to the beach next weekend. I came across your writeup while looking for information (unsuccessfully, I might add) on DIY saltmaking.

I tried it with real fire, charcoal and wood, which is both time consuming and inefficient. I didn't use cheesecloth, which may account for the sludge, and the pot was a big black lobster pot, with a smooth enamel finish. Maybe stainless steel works better. Did you collect everything on the top or the bottom of the water, and did salt cling to the sides? Sorry for the long post and lots of Q's, but this was my weekend obsession, and now I have to make it work.

cookiecrumb said...

Hi, ftsquid: It's great that you dropped by. Do you think Atlantic water might be less saline to begin with? I think it's grand, in a rugged, DIY way, that you tried evaporating over a wood fire... But I probably had more control over the gas range. Two other thoughts: I started out boiling way less water to begin with, so I might have seen results quicker. And I boiled almost all the water off, except for some residual moisture, so "harvesting" just meant scraping up the salt from the bottom (and sides) of the pot. I don't think the fact that the pot was stainless steel makes much difference.
When you try again, collect your water from the surface of the sea in a calm location so you don't pick up so much crud, and filter it before you boil.
Come back and tell me how it goes.

Andrea Peterson said...

I am working on making objects out of salt for an exhibition coming up. I found info on things like Sugar skulls, a day of the dead tradition, but i would like to make things out of salt instead. you think that if i just boiled lots of dissolved salt that i could...well, no i guess i would end up with a shit lot of salt eh? ok, well you have any ideas on a binding agent? just thought, well...just thought i would ask.

cheers!
andy

cookiecrumb said...

Hey, Andy, I think I do have an idea. You know how they create that great salt crust for salt-baked chicken? It's bound with slightly beaten egg white. You might Google "hakka salt baked chicken" and look at some recipes, but I think it would be simple to make up a version yourself.

circumspice said...

I'm so jealous right now. Why oh why aren't the great lakes salinated? Is that even a word?

cookiecrumb said...

Hi, Circum: I'm not sure I'll be using this salt as a regular condiment (unknown elements), but I am pretty proud of the accomplishment.
(And if "desalinated" is a word, then by golly...)

Anonymous said...

Wow! Crazy as it sounds I was googling how to make salt - I live on the Atlantic side of the country - and found your blog. You really are amazing!
There must be a way to see if the bad bacteria is dead...

cookiecrumb said...

Hi Anonymous: I think there can be no doubt that any bacteria is dead. First, we boiled this stuff for hours. Second, I don't think bacteria can live in a salt environment.
My only concerns would be about concentrated metals, acids, minerals... Eep!

michael said...

Does anyone know how to make truffle salt? I have a variety of fine salts and around a dozen bottled black summer truffles. I would like to generate my own truffle salts to dazzle my frinds. It is great fun!

Anonymous said...

IT TASTE LIKE POO IN MY MOUTH

Anonymous said...

Before you open up a salt factory please consider the source of the energy for the boiling. If it's not solar and there's no salt shortage, it's yet another unnecessary use of fossil fuels (i guess in California you have nuclear which is not really so bad if they can figure out where to keep the radioactive waste).

Anonymous said...

Be careful about where you collect the water used to make your sea salt. It's not just the bacteria that you need to worry about (which is killed by the boiling and natural salinity). The real danger lies in the toxic chemicals and other industrial run-off that is in nearly city's shore water. Any chemicals in in the water will be in the salt, regardless of how long or hard the water is boiled.

Louie said...

I just discovered your blog while Googling sea salt. I'm interested in trying this myself and will be going to the north Florida Gulf coast in couple weeks. Thanks for the info.
L

cookiecrumb said...

Louie: How cool. Have fun, and I wish you success. I guess the important fact (if you read all the comments here) is to trust that the sea water you collect is clean.

L.F. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Louie said...

Yes, I read that. Considering the traffic around this part of the Gulf, I might have to go as far as Mexico to make sure the water is clean. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hello cookiecrumb! I found your blog on salt making, and you inspired me to finally fulfill one of a thousand entries on my "Life List". However, the salt keeps sticking to the bottom of my pan; unscrapable. How did you get the salt to come off the pan after boiling? Please help, I'm desperate. Thanks!

cookiecrumb said...

Hello Anonymous: I hadn't thought about sticking. I pulled my salt off the heat before it was completely dry, still a *little* moist. That must have been why it scraped out so easily. Have fun!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Cookiecrumb, I switch boiling vessels from a nonstick (yea right!) stock pot to my Caribbean blue dutch oven and it worked like a charm. I was able to harvest a cup of salt from six quarts of water. Anyways, thank you for your help! Happy Eating and Cheers!

cookiecrumb said...

Anonymous: That's quite a harvest! Congratulations.

Anonymous said...

What a COOL idea! I remember when I was out west...the salt was just laying on the rocks! I collected quite a bit of it and brought it home with me to the East coast. I was just amazed to see it laying there for the taking!
For people who are worried about consuming such salt...why not use it for sea salt baths? That is what I did! Just add your favorite fragrance...and you got your own made bath salts!
Thanks for the article cookiecrumb! I am impressed! I will be trying the water from the Atlantic Ocean.....

cookiecrumb said...

Anonymous: Good luck with your harvest. I'm really tickled to hear your suggestion for bath salts! Yow. Or you could add some olive oil and use it as an exfoliating scrub. Good thinkin'!

Anonymous said...

Hi there, not a regular reader, but stumbled across this because I have some of my own sea salt boiling up as I write.

Congrats on yours, it looks great.

I notice a lot of comments here about safety. I have degrees in Microbiology & Chemistry.
There is no real concern whatsoever about bacteria, viruses etc after boiling for this length of time, let alone in a saturated salt solution.
There could be some worry about heavy metals. I would be more careful about collecting in a harbour than open coastline. I am from Australia, so I don't know what pollution levels you are dealing with.

Also, I would be cautious about stainless steel. There are some toxic metals in stainless which are stable under normal condions, but stainless may not be made for these kind of harsh salty conditions. Might be fine, but would prefer to use glass, cast iron, or enamel myself (though unprotected cast might get pitting).
Cheers, and great project!

cookiecrumb said...

Dear Anonymous: Thank you! I appreciate your learned observations, especially the one about stainless steel.
Good luck with your salt.

FloridaHerbHouse.com said...

There is a good article on alaea Hawaiian sea salt from the company I work a here:
http://seasaltguide.blogspot.com/

davekingsjunk said...

Those of you who feel the ocean may be dirty.....check where your table salt comes from.....often it is from a far less palatable place or it is handled like a yard of gravel might be.....you may feel the coast is a great place to get salt...or yo may find the store is a poor spot.

Rebecca said...

Great post (even today, almost 5 years later! lol). I'll be trying this a.s.a.p I think I'll send one of the kids down to the beach tomorrow. I had to chuckle at the comment about traveling to Mexico to find clean ocean water. Obviously the person doesn't live in Mexico! lol

I'm thinking that if I harvest seawater during a dry season and away from the mouth of a river (which would carry God-only-knows what pesticides), the salt should be at least as safe as the stuff I buy here -- which might not be saying much, since all salt here is iodized and flouridated.

I'm thinking I'll take my chances! Those things which don't kill us make us stronger. ;^)

cookiecrumb said...

Rebecca: Try it! A little definitely won't kill you. Next time I dry seawater, I hope to get it from farther out in the ocean. A friend used his kayak to go a ways off shore and scoop up a few bottles worth. (I don't have a kayak... But I do have a friend!)