The salt of life
Men have always needed salt.
from cellular biology...
The journey starts with our very cells, which need salt on daily basis to function properly : sodium chloride interacts with the cellular wall to allow it to hold back water. That’s the reason why a human body is 70% water !
... through the ages...
Throughout History, alsmot every sedentary culture of the planet has, one way or another, brought salt into its civilization and if life. In Greek mythology, the salty foam of the ocean was said to be the semen of the Gods. In Rome, the legionaries were paid in salt for it was as good as gold (that is were the word “salary” comes from). In France, during the Middle Ages, it was one of the King’s greatest privilege to levy or exempt a tox on salt. The most loyal provinces were relieved of that tax. In Ancient China, salt was so precious that harvesters were forced by imperial decree to pass on their jobs to their sons. And Venice’s finest hour, in the 13ht century, was actually built on salt trade in the Mediterranean. As we can see, men never ceased to show interest in salt.
... into our very plates.
It is therefore only logical that it became a corner-stone of our cooking and a must-have in our kitchens. More than a spice, it is actually a tool used to bring flavors together into our plates. Often described as a “flavor enhancer”, salt is actually much more than that : it is a link between our food, our plates and our culture.
The harvest in salt marshes
Set up on the coastline, the harvest in salt marshes is a tradition that has not changed in 2000 years. The traditional harvester, called the “saunier”, is the craftsman of this delicate balance between land and sea. In the unique environment of the island of Noirmoutier, around 150 sauniers still harvest and produce sea salt in this traditional way. They are heirs of a long bloodline of men who started harvesting salt here 1200 years ago.
Twice a month, when the tides are highest, sea water, naturally charged with salt, is carry through channel into vast ponds, generally ancient swamps below sea-level that were arranged by men. In these ponds, shallow and highly exposed to sunshine and sea winds, water evaporates progressively, leaving salt to densify the remaining water.
The water, which now has an increased salt level, is brought into the actual salt marshes. Their bottom being made of clay, the evaporation accelerates, and the remaining water now reaches salinity levels close to saturation.
Just before reaching actual saturation (around 250 g of NaCl per liter), the water in brought into the harvesting ponds, the “oeillets”. We the water saturates, salt crystals start to form and drop at the bottom of the harvest ponds, which is no deeper than 5 cm. The salt is then harvested generally once a day.