Eating salt from the Dead Sea

Many, many years ago, after buying Himalayan salt or Atlantic sea salt or something of the type, I wondered aloud whether you could buy salt harvested from our very own Dead Sea. Why import when you have a product that is local and plentiful, and hopefully high quality, too? My interlocutor responded by saying what nearly everyone has to say about Dead Sea salt — no, Dead Sea salt is not edible. Indeed, the lowest point on earth at 423 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea is best known as the source of things like bromide, potash and bath salt.

But this conventional wisdom apparently isn’t true — the Dead Sea can indeed be a source for salt that rivals the pink, gourmet Himalayan salt, only with more minerals, according to a startup named Naked Sea. Naked Sea’s goal is to sell mineral-rich salt harvested from the Dead Sea, both unadulterated and mixed with a long list of herbs and seasonings. The company is currently in its infancy, and at the moment products are available only through the company’s Kickstarter campaign, which ends Sept. 1.

The idea of harvesting edible salt from the Dead Sea is so unheard of that a casual search did not turn up a single source in Hebrew or English. But apparently it’s been done for decades, if not longer. Naked Sea founder Ari Fruchter told me he also initially had trouble finding any information about edible Dead Sea salt, even though he had seen a salt field in action when scouting sites around the northern end of the sea for Spencer Tunick’s photo shoot there in 2011. Fruchter, a long-time Dead Sea preservation activist who spearheaded the Tunick photo shoot, had encountered the one factory that produces edible salt from the lowest place on earth, albeit for a rather limited audience. That company, a Palestinian factory called West Bank Salt Works, branched off of a British-Jordanian potash company and has been harvesting salt from the northern Dead Sea since 1964, selling it to the local Arab market in the Palestinian Territories and neighboring states; its main business is making salt for World Food Programme food baskets.

Now West Bank Salt Works is Fruchter’s partner, producing the salts for Naked Sea. Not all of West Bank Salt Works’ products are as rich in minerals as those being produced for Naked Sea, says Fruchter; the factory’s product line includes regular iodized table salt, among others. Naked Sea’s mineral-rich salt, as well as the flavor blends, was developed in conjunction with Alon Lior, one of Fruchter’s business partners. By the time Fruchter partnered with Lior in February, Lior had already done much of his own development and had a product ready for market, says Fruchter.

A whole lotta salt in that sea — just check out those salt-encrusted bicycles.

Not surprisingly, one of the most frequent questions posed to the Naked Salt team is whether the salt is safe for consumption. Fruchter notes that during his initial planning phase, scientist friends told him that based on information regarding the mineral composition of Dead Sea salts, there was no reason to think the salt couldn’t be consumed. As part of the process of preparing the product for sale, Naked Sea had their product tested by Israel’s Standards Institute as well as an institute in Germany, which confirmed their nutritionist’s claim that the salt was safe for consumption and also contained 32 different minerals, including 21 in high concentrations.

This last statistic is part of what makes the salt special, says Ari Gottesmann, a friend who is assisting Fruchter with marketing — their salt contains a higher concentration of natural minerals than any other product on the market, and the next closest competitor is Himalayan Pink Salt. Gottesmann is a big fan of natural salts, explaining that when not industrially produced, salt is full of minerals that your body needs and that comprise part of a natural diet. Up until 100 years ago, this is the salt that people would eat — naturally harvested sea salt, he says. “You had people who would create pools in the crevice of the rock, and then the salt would dry out and you would create flakes,” he says.

Here, take a better look at that bike.

Dead Sea salt is produced much the same way — evaporating water leaves salt residue around the shores of the sea. As part of the production process, water is pumped into evaporation pools and from there it drains back into the sea. The salt dries around the edges of the pool, while heavier minerals such as bromine and potash don’t crystallize as quickly as the other minerals and thus wash out with the water. The upper crust of the salt residue is then harvested, explains the Naked Sea team. From there, the salt crystals are sorted; larger crystals are used for Naked Sea products while smaller crystals are further processed to make the factory’s other products.

Fruchter and Gottesmann emphasize several other feel-good aspects about the endeavor — it’s a partnership between Americans, Palestinians and Israelis, with the Palestinian factory standing to profit handsomely; their harvesting method has been certified as environmentally sound by the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and a percentage of proceeds go to helping preserve the Dead Sea; and the salt is also kosher and free trade, and many of the blends are also organic.

For now, the product is available only via Kickstarter; once it gets off the ground, ordering will be available online through Abe’s Market in the United States. Overseas buyers, including people in Israel, will be able to order through the company’s website. Fruchter says he’s interested in marketing directly to consumers online, as opposed to getting the product into stores.

I know that I, for one, would be happy to replace my Himalayan and Atlantic sea salt with locally mined Dead Sea salt. And if the world follows suit, I’ll be proud to see a local product making such an international impact.

As seen at the Dead Sea: Dude, that mud bikini probably won’t help your sunburn.

So how’s the salt itself? People including Fruchter, Gottesmann and West Bank Salt Works’ Hussam Hallak describe Naked Sea salt as smoother and more mild than your standard table salt, though I admit that I’d be hard-pressed to describe the taste difference when comparing it with other gourmet salts such as Himalayan salt. As for the flavor blends, it’s important to note that these are salt blends, not spice blends — in the three blends I was given to try, the salt is more prominent than it would be in your average spice blend. (Which, I suppose, makes sense. This is salt.) Of the three I tried, I found the seaweed blend to be the most interesting — the combination of seaweed and sea salt reminded me of childhood days swimming in the sea.

So what do you think? Will this catch on?

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