Hand harvesting of salt makes a comeback in France


Ever since I read the fascinating tome Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, I have a new appreciation for one of the world’s oldest seasonings. You will find several varieties of salt in my cupboards, from basic granulated to kosher to sea salt from the Antarctic (courtesy of a friend). NPR recently examined how the demand for sea salt led to a revitalization of an age-old practice: hand harvesting of fleur de sel

The allure of specialty salts like fleur de sel (French for ‘salt flower’) and Himalyan pink salt is that the naturally-occurring minerals harvested with the salt add subtle but complex flavors. Sea salt has been harvested for more than 1,000 years on the Atlantic coast of France. The process is labor intensive, with the majority of the work still performed by hand.

Chefs have increasingly turned to these sophisticated finishing salts for their dishes and home cooks have followed their lead (and let’s not forget about the influence of Salt Bae). This increased interest has led to a resurgence in the number of salt makers (called sauniers in French) in the Atlantic salt marshes of France, reversing over 60 years of decline. 

While most of the tools used today would be familiar to those who harvested the salt centuries ago, a few things have changed. Rubber tires allow wheelbarrows to navigate the marshes without sinking, lighter materials have replaced heavy wood in some of the tools, and smartphones let every salt-maker know when it’s going to rain. The last part is crucial – sauniers remain at the mercy of the weather, because an ill-timed rain can wash away the entire harvest. 

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