From the woodlands and rolling hills of Momi comes new, natural, solar-evaporated artisan sea salt by South Seas Salt Fiji.
The pandemic of the past 14 months has been difficult for the tourism-reliant Blue Pacific. However, in times of great hardship often comes even greater resilience, ingenuity and creativity.
Businesses worldwide are diversifying their goods and services and going online. In the crystal-clear waters of Momi, Fiji, an opportunity was seized, and an artisanal sea salt company was born.
South Seas Salt Fiji is the brainchild of Alex and Will Garland, whose diving business at the Tokoriki Island Resort was immediately impacted by Fiji’s lockdown.
The couple are originally from the UK but now hold dual citizenship, having lived in Fiji for the past 20 years.
Alex said, “Will is a real water baby. He loves and is fascinated by anything in, around or to do with the sea.
“When COVID hit, like so many around the world, we didn’t think it would last as long as it has. When our diving operation was closed due to no tourism, we initially spent the time just prepping it for reopen. We were living off our savings and when lockdown lifted, we moved to our farm, which we had bought as a retirement property. We thought we’d do some work there and then head back to our dive operation once borders reopened. But as you know, that still hasn’t happened.”
The thought to harvest sea salt wasn’t a new one to the couple. While living in the UK and then in Egypt, they had played around with it as a hobby, with the possibility of doing something later on in life.
“We didn’t anticipate looking at it as a source of income so soon, but when things happen in life it is important to be able to figure out a way of getting by. I was sitting on our deck, overlooking the water, and just had a lightbulb moment. I thought, we have boats sitting by that we’re not using, space on the farm, and definitely time on our hands. Let’s look at artisanal salt now rather than later,” she comments.
“We did lots of research on YouTube, lots of book reading and really tried to take inspiration from salt makers around the world.
“Adapting the salt harvest process to your environment is important. For example, in New Zealand artisan salt is often made in glass houses or in polytunnels. Because Fiji has a cyclone season, we can’t do that here – they’d just be blown away.”
So, what makes South Sea Salts so special? Well, not all salt is created equal.
Surrounded by woodland, orchards and manicured gardens, up on the hills at Momi Heads where the wind sweeps up and you can drink in the glorious vistas of the sea, is South Seas Salt Farm.
With more than 1000 planted trees, including endemic species, Fiji pine, sandalwood, orchards and gardens, the farm is an extraordinary location, in a country created of beauty.
Their location is as unique to Fiji as their salt-making process. South Seas Salt relies
100 per cent on sun and wind to turn salt water to artisan sea salt. This method leaves no footprint on the planet and ensures their salt is full of sea mineral goodness (with no minerals being lost in this natural process).
The sea water used is collected from waters outside of the Navula Passage. The 1000-metre-deep spot in the Pacific Ocean was chosen based on the clarity and depth of the water. The water is always collected on an incoming tide, providing naturally clean, pure seawater.
Once back at the salt farm, this seawater is filtered several times before being added to the handmade salterns (evaporation tables). Prior to crystallisation it is filtered again, ensuring the sea salt is as pure as possible.
Alex said, “Our salt contains a mixture of crystal shapes, which is one reason why it is such beautiful salt. Uniformity is not synonymous with quality in the artisan salt makers’ world. No two salt crystals are the same. No two salt harvests are the same. The sea is different, the air is different, the conditions are different. Each batch of artisan sea salt is truly unique.
“People are used to salt being perfectly formed granules. That shape, or the need to grind salt, comes from the addition of additives, or excessive heating (baking) where the salt becomes brittle and desiccated enough to be placed in a grinder. Pure artisanal salt should be pinched or sprinkled, but never ground. As farmers of wild salt, we celebrate seasonality, sustainability and individuality.”
Solar-evaporated, unprocessed artisan sea salt retains moisture, locked into each individual salt crystal. This is how nature intends sea salt to be. South Seas Salt crafts in small batches for perfect freshness and the gentleness of flavours is created by the unique processes used to create this salt, including harvesting it at the exact optimum time.
South Seas Salt harvests sel gris, a wonderful salt with little nooks and crannies all over each crystal. These both catch and enhance the flavours of the salt’s minerals and ensure a huge surface area, making each pinch go much further. Due to its moisture, sel gris melts into food, rather than desiccating like table and rock salt.
“Think snowflake versus hailstone. And that little pool of melted salt accentuates the flavours you know and discovers myriad others. Try it on something simple – a slice of cucumber or tomato – you’ll be amazed,” said Alex.
South Seas Salt generally do two salt harvests from each saltern.
The water is placed in the saltern, covered, and left for the sun to do its work. Days later, at just the right time, the cover is removed so the Momi wind can gently sweep over the salterns, to create their unique sel gris salt.
“After each harvest we swaddle our salt in muslin cloth and hang it to drip dry in the
warm sun. This is artisan salt-making true to its French roots… pure, simple, natural and sustainable.”
The two harvests of the salt are split into two brand categories: “Luxe” and “Tradition”. The Luxe sel gris crystals are the first collected from the salterns. Delicate in crunch and taste, they provide a gently sweet and salty burst of flavour when sprinkled on food, elevating the flavours of the humblest of dishes to “the next level”.
“Tradition” is the sea salt reaped from the second harvest. It is the ultimate all-round cooking salt that Alex recommends you keep by your stove top.
“We’ve spent the past year honing our process. We’ve also been experimenting with blends, like with limes grown here at South Seas Salt Farm. With all great gourmet experiences the end product is the result of a lot of trial and error.
“While we try to use products from our farm in our infusions as much as possible, we can’t grow everything here. It’s been really amazing and inspiring to find out about other wonderful food producers in Fiji whom we can collaborate with – being able to use herbs and spices grown in Fiji gives our product a truly Fijian flavour.”
And if creating all this wasn’t enough, South Seas Salt will soon be launching a range of health and wellness salt products.
Alex is super excited about the South Salt Seas Mineral Drops they’ve been working on.
“The alkaline liquid is the end product of our natural salt-making process. High in magnesium and potassium, with sodium, silica, zinc, calcium and sixty other minerals, the drops contain very much the same balance of minerals naturally found in the human body,” she said.
“The drops are amazingly hydrating. It’s a natural alternative to sugary sports drinks and artificial hydration remedies and a great pick-me-up, and let’s face it: the human body is something that can only benefit from better hydration.”
Currently South Seas Salt is waiting on their packaging to arrive in Fiji in order to complete their transition to being export ready. Alex said that delays haven’t meant they’ve slowed down.
“We’re looking at how we can package for our domestic market; I want people to have sustainable options for purchase. We’re looking at beautiful glass jars and wooden lids, which will look great on the kitchen counter, and at the other extreme, compostable kava bags for our sales at local farmers markets. And we’re discussing options with resorts where they supply us or we supply them with reusable containers for refill, eliminating disposable packaging completely.”
From a dire situation to creating new opportunity, South Seas Salt are now looking forward to bringing the real taste of Fiji into people’s homes.