Salt Flowers

Salt Flowers

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On the southernmost coast of Brittany, just north of where the Loire empties into the Atlantic, a vast marsh nestles within the fishhook-shaped Guérande peninsula. Sel de Guérande has been harvested here for a thousand years, and today’s harvesters, (called paludiers, from an old French word deriving from the Latin palus for marsh) use much the same methods and tools as their Iron Age ancestors did.

The nearly 5,000-acre marsh is divided into a patchwork of basins formed from the region’s underlying clay, and nature does most of the initial work: twice a day the tides bring seawater into the starter ponds, and while sun and wind start the evaporation process, the increasingly salty water is guided through a series of pools until it reaches the crystallization basins. Here the fleur de sel, irregular, crunchy, pure white “salt flower” crystals that float to the top, is delicately hand harvested with wooden rakes—only in the late afternoon in very dry weather, special conditions that account for its rarity and relatively high price. The remaining salt, which takes its gray color from the clay, is scraped up from the bottom and either sold as coarse salt or dried and crushed into fine salt.

While fleur de sel is prized as a finishing salt with a delicate flavor that reminds some of violets, all salt from Guérande is completely natural, rich in magnesium and trace elements, with none of the bleaching, refining or processing agents that can add a bitter taste. Because it remains slightly damp, it’s sold in airtight containers or plastic bags.


More information on the Sel de Guérande website

Find fleur de sel de Guérande at fine food stores and online.

Originally published in the December 2008 issue of France Today, updated in July 2013.

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