Sea salt from Anglesey, Wales is arguably the most pure, flavorful, and brilliantly white, of any on earth. On the coast of this small island of 85,000 inhabitants, in northwest Wales, David and Alison Lea-Wilson’s Anglesey Sea Salt Company harvests the superlative product known around the world as Halen Mon Sea Salt.
Salt production in Wales is no Johnny-come-lately enterprise. Alison explains, "Our island has been occupied by different invaders, including the Vikings, but it was the Romans who were the first recorded people to make salt here, around 50 AD."
Indeed, salt’s economic and health value to humankind, predates recorded history. Neolithic Age settlements (about 9500 BC) were established at salt springs. The infancy of the salt trade was born during the Bronze Age (3500 – 1200 BC). Salt had great value during Rome’s glory days, to the extent of being used as salarium, "salary," to Roman soldiers. Salt is mentioned in the Bible, Matthew 5:13 – "ye are the salt of the Earth."
The mineral can be mined from within the earth, like coal, or "harvested" from sea water. Alison describes the unlikely first step in sea salt production in Anglesey: "We need a license to draw sea water. To get that, we have to apply and pay the Queen’s bank every year for the privilege of taking the water. The monarch owns all the shore around Great Britain."
A pipe goes into the waters of the Menai Strait, through a sand bank and mussel bed. Mussels are filter feeders, so the seawater is cleaned of organisms. Next, the water goes through carbon filters, and into the salt plant. Water is concentrated by the use of heat lamps to raise the level of salinity.
Crystals begin to form on the surface of the water. As the crystals get larger and heavier, they fall to the bottom of the tank. Each morning the harvesters scoop out the crystals, rinse and drain them. The rinsing imparts a gem-like quality to the crystals, which are then dried in ovens, and packed by hand.
The main difference between Halen Mon Sea Salt and regular salt is in the snowflake-shaped crystalline structure. It gives a good "crunch" to the foods it’s on, and does not melt when put on hot food. About the brilliant color, Alison proudly explains, "It’s extremely white; in fact, it sparkles. People have said we must bleach it, but we don’t."
Anglesey Sea Salt Company is the largest employer in the village of Brynsiencyn. The job of packing the salt is a skilled job, requiring about six months of training. Most of the employees are indigenous Welsh.
Halen Mon Sea Salt comes in several flavors. The smoked variety is gently infused with smoke from Welsh oak chippings, and has a sweeter edge. Alison’s most famous customer, Fran’s Chocolates in Seattle, Washington, sprinkles this variety of salt on their Smoked Salt Caramel, which is reported to be one of President Obama’s favorite sweets.