Why British salt is better

18 September 2023, 13:00 PM
  • How and where is salt made in the UK, what makes it so special and what flavours are trending today? Speciality Food finds out
Why British salt is better

The posh salt trend has been a growing area of interest for fine food retailers over the years – as Speciality Food’s own trend watcher Sally-Jayne Wright said, “Once you’ve tried good salt, there’s no going back.” 

Exotic options like Himalayan pink salt, or saffron-spiced flakes from Cyprus, have certainly caught consumers’ eyes, but there are plenty of varieties made closer to home. Not only are posh salts a simple way to elevate a homecooked meal, but, if chosen carefully, they can have better sustainability and health credentials, too – all things that today’s shoppers are on the hunt for.

Plus, us Brits love a homegrown success, so it’s no surprise that British varieties are popping up in every deli and farm shop worth its salt. Curious to learn more about what makes British salts special? We’ve delved into this seemingly ordinary ingredient to find out.

Does the UK make its own salt?

Yes, the UK has made its own salt since the Iron Age, which goes as far back as 800 BC. There are numerous producers around the country today, many of whom are reviving traditional production techniques or creating new eco-friendly methods.

In England, Maldon Salt has hand-harvested its pyramid salt flakes in the coastal town of Maldon, Essex, since 1882, and Cornish Sea Salt Co harvests from the Atlantic Ocean around The Lizard peninsula using production methods that are inspired by Cornwall’s Iron Age salt works. Droitwich Salt produces all-natural brine salt, harvested from pure brine springs in Worcestershire.

Blackthorn Salt in Scotland is the only producer in the country to use a graduation thorn tower to create salt from Scottish west coast seawater, while Isle of Skye Sea Salt Company uses the mineral-rich sea waters of Loch Snizort to make its all-natural product.

In Wales, Halen Môn has become a household name for its Anglesey Sea Salt, and Pembrokeshire Sea Salt Co also launched in 2016 to feed into the growing appetite for homegrown salt.

Where does British salt come from?

As the brands above show, British salt comes from all around the UK. British producers use a variety of methods for harvesting sea salt. From coastal makers who carefully capture naturally forming salt flakes from the sea, to producers situated inland who crystalise the brine from springs.

Other methods being used include Blackthorn’s graduation tower - a wall of blackthorn bundles on which salty water trickles down, evaporating using natural elements (wind and sun) to create a salty brine.

The location where the salt is sourced has an impact on its overall flavour, too. “At Maldon, we’ve been on a bit of an adventure over the last couple of years, sourcing the finest world salts to create our Merchants Range,” says commercial director Robert La Francesca. “This has demonstrated the distinctive difference in flavour, texture and taste that each salt brings, based on the locations and methods from which the salts are harvested. Therefore, no two salts are the same and all have their own unique characteristics and qualities.”

Are there health benefits of British sea salt?

Sea salt made in Britain often boasts richer mineral content than the salt you’d typically find in the supermarket and tends not to contain additives like anti-caking agents.

Salt has been making headlines in the UK for the wrong reasons lately following the introduction of HFSS regulations. Last year, health charities also called for a sugar tax-style levy on the amount of salt in food to reduce heart attacks and strokes.

While salt certainly can’t be labelled a health food, there are benefits to choosing British-made varieties. 

The part of the country where each type of salt is made will impact its mineral makeup. For example, Philip Tanswell, managing director of Cornish Sea Salt, explains their salt contains natural sea minerals including calcium, potassium and magnesium. “The Grade A waters possess a distinct mineral profile, thanks to the area’s unusual rock geology delivering the unique Cornish mineral profile that makes our flavour so distinctive.”

Many British salt brands also boast a more intense flavour, meaning consumers can use less in their home cooking. “The diverse range of sea salts are hand-harvested to deliver maximum flavour with the abundance of these sea minerals reducing the sodium content and delivering more flavour with less salt,” Philip adds.

The benefits of buying British extend beyond health claims too, with many producers pointing to their sustainability credentials. David Lea-Wilson, co-founder of Halen Môn, highlights the brand’s recent B Corp accreditation. “We are also a Protected Food Name, meaning our provenance and place are unique. Our Soil Association certification is also a guarantee that we don’t add anything, and the way we harvest means that trace minerals that our bodies need are present.”

What salts are trending now?

Salt makers say flavoured varieties are very much in demand with customers. “In the last couple of years, with more consumers turning to home cooking, we’ve seen an increasing demand for special ingredients and little luxuries that can be used to elevate dishes,” Maldon’s Robert explains. “As a result, we’ve been busy innovating and have two exciting new flavoured salts coming to Amazon in the autumn – Garlic Sea Salt with wild & roasted wild garlic and Chilli Sea Salt with Aleppo pepper and bird’s eye chilli.”

“There has been a real interest in flavoured salts in the last few years,” adds Halen Môn’s David. “Our pure sea salt smoked over oak chippings has grown in popularity (delicious on scrambled eggs), as has our chilli and garlic blend, which packs a real punch. The newest member of our family is ‘popeth’ a blend of sesame, chilli, onion, garlic and sea salt which is good on everything!”

Philip agrees that many retailers are now stocking a wider range of flavoured salts, including their Garlic, Salt & Pepper and Chilli. “The beauty of the ‘Simple Seasoning’ range is the speciality ingredients are blended with our mineral-rich sea salt, which amplifies the individual ingredients and carries the flavours in each of the simple seasoning blends,” he says.

With many shoppers on the lookout for where to buy British salt brands, it’s important to shout about any products that you stock, and to highlight their pros over bog-standard varieties. If you use British salt in your café or restaurant, be sure to mention that on menus, too. This not only makes customers more aware of the British salt brands on their doorstep, but they may go looking for ingredients in your shop if they enjoyed their meal.

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