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How many types of salt have you tasted?

For me, I would say possibly two or three, until the day I found myself surrounded by chefs, salt purveyors and food writers all in one room, slowly curing ourselves like an aged meat with 15 different kinds of salt from all over the world. Big thanks to Helen (Grab Your Fork), Simon and I are invited to the Salt Tasting event at William Blue Restaurant, hosted by Fritz Gubler from Great, Grand & Famous group and food writer David Glynn.

Salt is undeniably makes all food taste great. As much as I love food that is heavily flavoured with seasonings like salt, it can be extremely lethal for a hypertension (high blood pressure) sufferer and unfortunately I am one of them. That’s why I found this event is extremely interesting and educational to learn how to be “salt wise”.

The event is held as part of the preparation for the forthcoming title, The Salt Book, to be published in March this year. We arrived at the William Blue Restaurant and welcomed by Mr Gubler himself, who seems to know everyone who walk through the door, admitted that he just read my blog that morning and complimented on my food photos. *~blush~* Why thank you.

A straight line of saucers with 15 different type of salts are presented at each table ready for tasting. Apart from being ‘salty’, surprisingly each type of salt has its own flavour, intensity and characteristics. Today under Gubler’s guidance, we will be pairing the salts with a variety of food and learn about using the right salt, in the right amount, for the right dish. We are also encouraged to experiment and discover new flavour with different pairings then write down on the tasting note given.

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Among all 15 varieties of salt, a few caught my attention which are noticeably different in colour, Cyprus black sea salt, Cyprus lemon salt in yellow and Hawaiian green salt for instance. Then there are some like Netherlands smoked salt, and Tetsuya’s truffle salt which both have their very own distinctive pungent smell or the Indian black salt, harvested from the volcanic area which is not black but tasted absolutely foul on its own.

The salts are the heroes of this event, so the pairing food presented are simply fresh cuts of vegetables, fruits, seafood and meats, nothing fancy. It is like a school science project, you can let your imaginations go wild since there are no set rules with the salt pairings, some combination are triumph, and some simply disgusting. Here are a few interesting salts that I’ve tasted:

Cyprus Black Sea Salt

Its black colour makes it stand out among the crowd. The Cyprus black sea salt is initially white, then activated with charcoal from volcanic areas. It is also quick to dissolve than others, both on the tongue and on hot foods. The unusual black colour is its selling point, it makes a dramatic garnishing salt, adding an exciting ‘salt’-appeal to ordinary dishes. It is suggested to try with meats, including smoked and cured; or subtle dishes like salads.

Murray River Pink Salt

The Murray River pink salt is particularly popular with Australian chefs like Justin North from Becasse, who favours the salt for its ‘beautifully balanced clean finish’ and its ‘delicate crunch’. It is subtle in flavour and rich in minerals. The minerals like magnesium, potassium, iron and calcium that can only be found in Murray River and the red pigment salt-tolerant algae in the river basin, that gives the salt a salmon-pink colour.  It has a light, delicate texture that crumbles easily in the fingers, which makes the Murray River pink salt an excellent finishing salt. It is suggested to pair with steak of other grilled, roasted or barbecued meats; good with vegetables such as mushrooms and potatoes.

Fleur de Sel de Guerande

A highly prized salt crystals from France, fleur de sel is known as the ‘flower of the salt’, the name used to describe the light ‘flower’ salt crystals, which is so delicate that the salt can only be collected when the weather is warm and winds are light. We’ve been told that majority of the harvesters at the salt ponds are also women who are praised by their soft feminine touch. We are presented with a picture of the salt farm how fleur de sel is made and harvested, without going into details I found it absolutely fascinating. The light, flaky texture and with a pure, slightly mineral taste, it is perfect for finishing dishes, suggested to try with fresh garden vegetables, delicate sauces, grilled seafood and perhaps try the fleur de del and olive oil chocolate cake.

Himalayan Pink Salt

The Pom received a packet of the Himalyan Pink Salt from Helen years ago, and ended up I am using it the most. The pink salt is mined from the foothills of the Himalayan mountains in Tibet, where it was deposited when the area was under the sea 250 million years ago. The pink salt is still extracted from mines using traditional method, mined by hand and brought down from the mountains on the backs of yaks. The pink translucent crystals have a subtle, crunchy texture and a very gentle flavour. A slab of the Himalayan pink salt was on displayed, and it is so beautiful with its marble effect. Suggested to try the Himalayan pink salt with barbecued meats, or highly spiced food. I’ve been informed that they are also making Himalayan pink salt bowls, which you can toss your salad in the bowl and will be naturally flavoured. Interesting.

Fleur de Sel Vanilla

The fleur de sel is uniquely enhanced with vanilla which makes it a very versatile salt, an ideal medium for carrying other flavours. It is suggested to try with savoury flavours, especially seafood. I found this particular salt works extremely well with fruit. I tried it with strawberry, almost like eating vanilla strawberry dessert.

Halen Môn Salted Lemon

Why squeeze a lemon over salmon then sprinkle some table salt, when you can just do all in one go with the Halen Môn salted lemon? Basically is by wrapping some Halen Mon salt using mesh on a halved lemon. I found this trick is extremely useful and works exceptionally well. The lemon juice dissolves the salt, and then it tempers the harshness of the citrus, leaves a salty, tangy juice just perfect to accompany with seafood.

Cyprus Lemon Salt Flakes

Another type of salt that has been enhanced by lemon is the Cyprus lemon salt flakes. It is particularly useful for rich or sweet dishes that benefit being ‘cut’ with the tang of citrus. It is suggested to try with seafood, particularly scallops; chicken; roasted or grilled vegetables.

Tetsuya’s Truffle Salt

The Sydney chef’s-hatted restaurant, Tetsuya’s truffle salt also made it into the list. Tetsuya’s truffle salt is a delicate and aromatic blend of ground black truffle and sea salt, sourced from Italy. An ideal way to enhance the food with the delicate flavour of the truffle is by adding it to salt. Its unique aroma of truffle will turn everyday dishes into something exotic and exciting. I found it worked extremely well with cooked egg dishes, also suggested to tossed in pasta, on pate or foie gras, or simple sprinkle on buttered popcorn.

Indian Black Salt

Tasted like rotten egg on its own, the Indian black salt, also known as black salt or sanchal, kala namak is the most notorious salt on the table. This unrefined volcanic table salt has a strong sulfuric flavour, rich in minerals and most often used to flavour Indian dishes like chaats, vegetable and fruit salads. I had trouble finding any food that pairs well with the Indian black salt except tuna and eggplant, surprisingly tasted just like egg.

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We finished the event with a round of salted caramel macarons, buttercream macarons and salted chocolate ganache prepared by Adriano Zumbo using salt of course. Had a quick chat with the man himself and great to know he is also having a book in the pipeline. Keep an eye out, Zumbo’s fans!

We also spotted some other variety of salts which were not for tasting just yet, including hibiscus salt, bonito salt and squid ink salt. I just can imagine the squid ink salt will taste so good on pasta. After two hours of salt tasting, my hypertension level probably shot up to the roof. Who would have thought that there are so much you can learn from that little smidgen of salt that you sprinkle on your food daily?

The Salt Book will be published in March 2010, can’t wait to grab hold a copy and add to my cookbook collection.

[A Table For Two attended this event courtesy of Great, Grand & Famous.]