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Take it with a Grain of Salt: Sea Salt!

Posted by E.G.D. on October 24, 2011

The red bit is Gunma. The sea salt is at least a five hour train ride away! (map by 国土交通省 国土数値情報(行政区域). It's the Japanese Ministry of Land)

As some of you already know, once upon a time I worked for the prefectural government of Gunma-ken (which is north of Tokyo, Japan).  I was a high school teacher for one of the government-run high schools, and by virtue of this, I had to attend long and frequent meetings in the prefecture’s capital, Maebashi.  This has absolutely nothing to do with beaches, I know, but it does indirectly have something to do with a sea salt concoction almost unknown outside of Asia: sea salt flavored ice cream.  Once, when I was in the prefectural government building for a meeting, I discovered a Gunma Prefecture Food Festival on the ground floor, and it featured a delightfully wide array of foods from all over Gunma, including (yes) freshly churned and chilled sea salt ice cream.  Honestly, the dairy in the ice cream had more to do with Gunma than the sea salt (Gunma is basically the dead center of the island of Honshu and has no ocean coast to call its own), but sea salt ice cream was something that every single friend I was with HAD to try.  I’m a lacto-vegetarian with an egg allergy, and the ice cream at the food festival contained eggs, so I burned with curiosity as my friends made faces and tried to decide whether or not the stuff actually tasted good.  The conclusions were mixed.  Ultimately, because I have fun and thoughtful friends, a group of us decided to surface a recipe and make our very own sea salt ice cream so that I could try it and decide for myself.  We wound up mixing cream, agar, sugar, vanilla, milk, and sea salt in an impromptu ice cream maker (constructed of Tupperware-esque plastic tubs) and applying a liberal amount of dry ice. We mixed it, stuck it in the freezer for a bit, mixed it again, and in very little time we had sea salt ice cream!  To this day, I have yet to decide whether it was actually good, but let me tell you, it was one heck of a lot of fun, and it did make me think of summer days at the beach.

Salt Harvesting on a Beach in Thailand (Photo by JJ Harrison at http://www.noodlesnacks.com/)

Sea salt may qualify as a real beach treasure, and it is certainly one of the most versatile of all coastal food products.  Some companies harvest ocean or sea water and dry it, some mine it from deposits, and some do both.  According to an article on mayoclinic.com, it contains more trace minerals than table salt because it is less processed, and it is less likely to contain anti-caking agents.  Also according to the article, the trace mineral content and lighter processing makes for a difference in taste from table salt, though not a significant difference in healthiness (perhaps that bit is more of a folk medicine idea?).  My point is, regardless of whether sea salt is healthier, a difference in taste really means something when a recipe calls for natural sea salt, and sea salt is a valuable thing for a beachgoer to have in his or her pantry.  To prove my point, I am providing a link to a recipe for an excellent thing to bring on your perfect beach picnic.  It is from the Morton Salt website, and I cannot wait to try it out:

Morton Sweet and Salty Grilled Pineapple Salsa

If you’ve tried this recipe, or in case you mange to try it before I do, please feel free to leave your findings in the reply/comment box under this post.  Also, we’d love to know your personal thoughts about and experiences with sea salt ice cream, especially if you enjoyed it on the beach!  Mahalo, and happy beachcombing- E.G.D.

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