Salt has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, caravans used to bring salt across the Sahara and the Chinese harvested salt as far back as 6000 BC. It’s essential to life in all forms and it is one of the oldest materials used for food preservation. It’s a natural product found and harvested all over the world.
Sea salt, or fleur de del, is harvested from the sea through evaporation and it is about as natural as you can get.
Jessica and Jeff Abel were sitting around a friend’s table and talk came around to local business and local food. At one point in the conversation Jeff asked, “We live on an island, why isn’t anyone making sea salt?”
This whole notion started the ideas rolling and since both Jessica and Jeff were not exactly happy in their work, they decided to pursue the idea further.
Research and more research led the couple to the shores around French Beach.
Jeff had a boat and was asked to bring in some seawater next time he was out fishing. So Jeff went out in his boat, used a hose and pump and brought Jessica sea water in large containers. That was the first in a series of efforts to get sea water easily and painlessly out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. There are other stories of broken pipes and pumps, crashing waves and ice cold fingers, but perseverance paid off.
“I wanted to see if I was crazy,” said Jessica in reference to her first experiments making sea salt. “I tested and tested and found I could actually make a business out of this.”
Neither of them has a entrepreneurial or business background, but entrepreneurs and business owners they became. That was in 2011 and their product, at the time was called Salish Sea Salt, but copyright issues forced them to find a new name.
The couple eventually came up with the name Saltwest Naturals and they were in business. The name speaks to their core values of sustainability, natural organic and local foods.
“It has to be good for you and good for the earth,” said Jessica.
They have just finished building a certified kitchen and showroom/office on Lemare Crescent and are in the process of constructing a greenhouse which will allow them to use solar evaporation of the sea water to speed up the process. Right now, their process is labour intensive and very hands on. They just purchased a 1,500 gallon cistern to stockpile sea water for use over the year.
The salt they produce is tested and has been deemed safe for consumption. It’s upstream from Victoria in the cold clear waters of the Juan de Fuca. Jeff researched the currents to make sure they had clean sea water. It is filtered twice through a 12 micron filter before evaporation. A batch of salt can take up to a week to make and Jessica is at it from morning to midnight. It’s manual work and she can be found in the kitchen stirring her pots of salt and added ingredients such as garlic or smoked maple syrup.
“It all takes time,” she said, “it’s a slow food. It falls into the 100 Mile Diet.”
What comes out of her kitchen is gourmet salt. The Sweet Smokey Maple is the most popular and is spectacular on wild salmon. They maple smoke the sea salt and it is all natural, no preservatives, gluten, MSG or binders.
It’s unique to Saltwest and Jessica is always busy coming up with new ideas and flavors. There is Presto Pesto, Lemon Pepper Infused sea salt, Chili Garlic and a host of others. Their most popular gourmet salt in Ocean Jewel, a premium salt made by growing the salt crystals into rare formations. It’s a high-end finishing salt.
They also make bath salts of those who want a good soak.
“As we go along we’re learning,” said Jessica.
Currently they are selling their products through farmers’ markets on the Island and on the lower Mainland. It’s time consuming and they are looking to hire someone from the Sooke area who might be interested in such a venture.
“The great thing about the sea salt industry is there are so few in Canada doing it. We’re local to the edge of Ontario,” said Jeff.
Saltwest will be at the All Sooke Arts & Crafts Christmas Market in November.