Unrefined Sea Salt

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Unrefined sea salts are produced in the way that agricultural crops are: their beds are managed and tended, the salt is harvested when ready, and minimally processed. The tending consists of a slow progressive concentration of the sea-water, and can take as much as five years. In most places the freshly harvested salt is washed of its surface impurities before drying. Unrefined versions are not systematically washed of their coating of minor minerals, algae and a few salt-tolerant bacteria. They therefore carry traces of magnesium chloride and sulfate and calcium sulfate, as well as particles of clay and other sediments that give the crystals a dull gray cast (unrefined French salts are called sel gris, “gray salt”). Because taste and aroma compounds are often detectable in minute concentrations, and these salts include both organic and mineral impurities, it’s possible that they would have a more complex flavor than refined salts, though that complexity would be overwhelmed by any food to which the salt is added.