Sunday, February 15, 2009

Saltistry: The Poetry of Taste

Salt is a flavor in its own right, but it also has the ability to enhance and carry other tastes. There is an undeniable poetry in salt. Mothers learn to decipher their infant’s cries to determine the meaning of their tears. Adults weep when words won’t do. Humans and animals are alive because of salt’s ability to regulate fluid balance. In utero, each of us inhaled and exhaled amniotic fluid so our lungs would grow strong; salt being one of the key ingredients in this nourishing and protecting liquid. When you smell or taste anything, you have salt to thank for giving you a head start in your sensory life.

Artisan sea salts have become increasingly popular, drawing attention to flavor, harvesting methods and terroir. Saltistry is a small company in Los Angeles, California that has turned the art of flavoring salt into pure poetry. Regional salts serve as the foundation for unique flavor combinations that are meticulously crafted by chef Joni Fay Hill. Saltistry's products are “finishing salts”; they are used to garnish a dish before it is served and put a little “ah-ha” into the experience of taste.

There are five sampler sets available on the company’s website. They include; Classic, Robust, Exotic, Harvest and Purist. The flavors listed on the panel of the Exotic Sampler inspire a fougère fragrance in the imagination; coconut black, preserved lemon, genmaicha, fennel pollen and lavender grey. What these flavored salts do on the tongue is memorable and delicious. It is not just the essences that determine the taste experience, but the shape of the salt crystals themselves. Some dissolve more easily than others. Others are accompanied by different mineral flavors, based on their origin. The Saltistry taste experience is as much about “mouthfeel” as it is about flavor. Try adding a dash of lavender salt to vanilla ice cream for a pleasurable and unexpected twist. Your understanding of salt as a condiment will become more expansive.

Chef Hill and partner Denise Daclan are driven by a passion for salt and a desire to make gourmet food experiences accessible to the public. The poetry of taste is not lost on Saltistry, who include an excerpt from Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to Salt” on their website. In honor of Neruda and Saltistry’s good taste, the poem is presented on Glass Petal Smoke in its entirety. The poem, which can be found in Neruda's Elemental Odes, can be heard on Reely's Poetry Pages.

Ode to Salt
by Pablo Neruda

This salt
in the saltcellar
I once saw in the salt mines.
I know
you won't
believe me,
it sings,
salt sings, the skin
of the salt mines
with a mouth smothered
by the earth.
I shivered in those solitudes
when I heard
the voice of
the salt
in the desert.
Near Antofagasta
the nitrous
a broken
a mournful

In its caves
the salt moans, mountain
of buried light,
translucent cathedral,
crystal of the sea, oblivion
of the waves.

And then on every table
in the world,
we see your piquant
vital light
our food. Preserver
of the ancient
holds of ships,
the high seas,
of the unknown, shifting
byways of the foam.
Dust of the sea, in you
the tongue receives a kiss
from ocean night:
taste imparts to every seasoned
dish your ocean essence;
the smallest,
wave from the saltcellar
reveals to us
more than domestic whiteness;
in it, we taste infinitude.


Saltistry’s infusion sets are priced at $18.00 each, plus shipping. They are located in the "Products" section of the company’s website.

Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky, is an amusing and informative read. If you didn't take to history in grade school, this book will change everything.

The photo of salt included in this post was taken by Denise Daclan. The rights reside with the photographer.