Hawaiian Sea Salt: The Flavor the Pacific

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For centuries, Hawaiians have used sea salt for a variety of purposes including for preserving foods, as a seasoning and as medicine. Long before making contact with Europeans, Hawaiians harvested salt from seawater in saltpans. Originally, Hawaiian salt was harvested in small batches and was white. As demand increased, large-scale production methods were adopted. Large saltpans were excavated into Hawaii’s volcanic clay, which was red due to its high iron ore content. Some of the salt took on a reddish color from the iron ore in the salt pans.

Salt would be one of the first items that native Hawaiians traded with the earliest Europeans to venture to the islands. It played a crucial role in a barter economy. By the 19th century, Hawaii would be the main supplier of salt to the Pacific Northwest. Hawaiian sea salt would be used to cure the salmon caught by fishermen in that part of the US. The salt was also sold to sailors and whaling ships along with salt-cured meat.

In the modern era, not all Hawaiian sea salt is made in the traditional way. In fact, many so-called Hawaiian salts are not Hawaiian at all. They consist of sea salt mixed with clay from China.

Hawaiian sea salts fall into three categories. The one that is most commonly identified as a true Hawaiian salt is the red sea salt. The best Hawaiian red sea salt is said to be the salt that comes from the island of Molokai. There is also black lava salt, which is not actually volcanic in origin as the name would seem to indicate. It is simply sea salt with the addition of activated charcoal for color. There is also a white sea salt.

Hawaiian sea salt flavor profile

The flavor of Hawaiian salts will differ depending on the type of salt. The best known is the red Hawaiian salt. One of red Hawaiian sea salt’s distinguishing characteristics is a nutty flavor that does not diminish over the length of the cooking process. Black Hawaiian sea salt has a strong earthy flavor that comes from the activated charcoal used to make it. One benefit of having a stronger taste is the fact that it allows you to use less of it and still get the benefit of its flavor. White sea salt is more akin to regular sea salt.

Health benefits of Hawaiian sea salt

Hawaiian sea salt has a number of important benefits that include:

  • It is low in sodium: Hawaiian sea salt is 20 percent lower in sodium than table salt. While sodium is safe when consumed in moderation, excessive consumption can have negative effects on health.
  • It contains trace minerals and electrolytes: The minerals in Hawaiian sea salt come mainly from the clay with which it is mixed. The iron oxide from the clay provides a digestible form of iron. Other minerals found in Hawaiian sea salt include potassium and magnesium. These are minerals that will typically be removed from table salt.

Minerals in Hawaiian sea salt can help to prevent or treat:

  • Osteoporosis: This is a loss of bone density that comes with age.
  • Iron-deficiency anemia: The iron content in red Hawaiian sea salt can play a small role in restoring iron levels in someone with a deficiency.

Common uses of Hawaiian sea salt

Hawaiian sea salt is commonly used in traditional Hawaiian dishes like kalua pig and poke. Its dramatic color also makes it an excellent finishing salt that can enhance the appearance of a dish. Choose the large crystal variety if you need a finishing salt.