Leaving Salt Traders, I clutched a bag full of various salts to my chest the way a child holds their Halloween candy, and I eyed the hefty pink salt licks, great chunks of Pakistani crystals, piled at the end of the table, heedlessly not wondering what the hell I would do with them when I brought them home, but what did they cost. I don’t have horses, and don’t want to lure deer into my yard, but something about these 5 pound pale rose stones, still wrapped with a useful Pakistani rope, presumably for tying to a tree in the horse corral, I needed.
The salt stories alone are worth the trip to the itty-bitty shop in Ipswich that houses Salt Traders and Didi Davis Foods. There is the Viking salt made in Denmark by a man who has researched all things Viking, including the way they procured salt, which was by boiling down huge cauldrons of sea water over a hardwood fire, the salt thus absorbing the smokey flavor. That Dane still does this and you can take home your own 1.5 ounces of Danish hard-wood infused gray sea salt, perfumed with a bonfire. The flavor dissolves on your tongue just before the burst of salinity, therefore not dredging taste but just reminding it of the flavor of burned juniper.
There is caviar salt, which is pearly little rounds of salt formed when the crystals skittle off the top of the simmering water to the corners of the pan, as opposed to fleur de sel, which is the first layer of delicate flakes that are raked off the surface of the water in France still with wooden rakes.
What one is after, besides various degrees of minerality and flavor in salt, is texture, and there are as many textures as there are crystal formations. Some salt crystals crunch; some flake, and thus suit different purposes. Some are large black, delicate pieces that melt in your mouth before there is even time for your teeth to finish a bite; some make a fine dusting for a chocolate cake. I recently read in The New York Times that one of the tricks to making the best chocolate chip cookies in the world was a fine sprinkle of sea salt over each cookie before they bake – perhaps Fleur de Sel, the queen of French Sea Salts.
Sea salt comes from evaporated sea water and table salt is mined from underground sources. The word “sea” alone is enough to make me reach for these salts, and, having tasted many, I’m absolutely positive of their ability to influence the tastes of foods in wonderful ways, but should you need more convincing The New York Times recently explained another important difference between table salts and sea salts: Table salt weighs much more than sea salt; a tablespoon of table salt is almost twice as heavy as sea salt, and therefore doesn’t really sprinkle, but, yes, pours.
Salt Traders products and Didi Davis foods, a related company that produces flavored salts and Mojito Sugar and Curry Sugar, (the latter makes a wildly delicious Chai Tea-like drink) can be found at this website, and in stores.
Or, you can drive, as I did, down a dusty industrial road in Ipswich to the tiny building that is home to those salt licks.