Moshio Japanse Seaweed Salt

My first experience of moshio, or Amabito No Moshio, Japanese seaweed salt.  It was like cliff-diving some off some north pacific archipelago during a summer tempest–a rush of warmth braced by brine and wind, a comforting rush cloaked in a sense of danger. My mind raced across time, scenes of lighting stabbing through dark clouds, sunshine seeping through moist fields of safflower, canyons opening through ancient layers of chert, breccia, and limestone, oceans swelling with the breath of the moon and the wind. I was eating shrimp. Not sure whether it was the lightly carbonized shell of the shrimp, the caramelized flavors of the flesh, or something in the marinade, I asked what was in the dish.

This was at the sushi counter of a Japanese restaurant in Boulder, Colorado of all places, and the chef was not inclined to indulge his clientèle of mostly an improbably mishmash of IBM executives, rock climbers, and ranchers. “Shrimp,” he replied.

“But how do you cook it?”

“It’s grilled,” mumbled, and turned his back on me to skin a salmon.

Not knowing what else to do, I asked the waitress for another Sapporo. “That sure was good shrimp,” I added lamely. “Ah. Yes!” she replied, masking her boredom with some effort behind cool dark eyes. “What is in it?” “It’s special grilled shrimp,” she said, repeating verbatim what I had just relayed to her. “Yes, but what makes it special?”

A light went on behind her eyes, but her dignity apparently demanded that she extinguish it as soon as possible. “It is traditional Japanese,” she said, apparently not recognizing that the terms “traditional” and “special” present a certain contradiction. I persisted, asking pointedly what exactly the chef does to make it. She stared at me, then dissappeared without further explanation.

And that was that. No go.

A week later I returned. Facing the same waitress, the same chef, I again ordered the special shrimp, which was no longer on the menu. No matter; ten minutes later I was tasting a full, round intensity of flavor that I could not place, but which pervaded my senses. The waitress arrived unbidden, pouring me another Sapporo. “I had a talk with the chef. He says the shimp is just grilled, then sprinkled with moshio.”

Aha! Yes! Salt, but with a feeling in the mouth like no other salt.

But what is moshio? “Moshio is ancient Japanese sea salt. My grandfather made it by evaporating sweater on kelp.”

It has been years since then. But finally! I have found Moshio again, and now am eating it on EVERYTHING. The moshio we are selling in our store, The Meadow, is called Amabito No Moshio (also called Ancient Sea Salt). The finishing salt’s round, rich flavors are due in part to the presence of ample trace minerals (calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, iodine etc.), plus the extraordinary quality of umami that comes from the unique techniques used in its production. The salt is very dry, with small but complexly articulated crystals of a luxurious beige color that complement its flavor beautifully.

I have used Amabito No Moshio as a finishing salt to great effect on fish, rice, roasted potatoes, pasta, red meat, pork. Then there was our dinner party where we dusted this sea salt dusted across the surface of a chocolate soufflé. I was dazzled. The savory, unctuous salt actually brought out sweetness and lurking fruit flavor in the bitter dark chocolate souffle.

Amabito No Moshio is also great as a cooking salt, in light soups and sauces where the delicate sea salt contributes to both aromas and flavors. Moshio is the earliest known sea salt produced by the Japanese, dating back to nearly 2,500 years ago. Although Japan is surrounded by sea water, the country’s humid, rainy climate has never been well suited for large-scale production of dry salt. It takes 10 tons of seaweed infused water to make just 200kg of this ancient sea salt.

In the good old days, many Japanese made do with salt-ash, which they produced by spreading seaweed on the beach to dry between storms, rinsing the plants in an isolated saltwater pool, and then boiling the brine with bits of remaining seaweed in a clay pot over a wood fire to evaporate the water, crystallize the salt and reducing the seaweed pieces to ash. This salt-ash mixture, Moshio became the staple salt of the region.

Today the production of ancient Moshio continues. Our Amabito No Moshio ancient sea salt is a finishing salt that is somewhat refined by modern production methods. Unpolluted salt water collected from the Seto-uchi Inland Sea is left in a large pool to stand for a while, evaporating some of the water and saturating the salt solution. Hon’dawara seaweed is then added to the salt water for infusion of its flavor and color.

After some time the seaweed is removed and the salt water is transferred to and cooked in a large iron pot until it gradually begins to crystallize becoming a mass resembling a chunky sherbet. This is then put into a centrifuge to extract more water. The last step in the process is to cook the salt mass in a large pot over an open fire stirring continuously with a large wooden paddle. This removes almost all moisture and the salt becomes tiny, free-flowing granules.

Our Amabito No Moshio is made on the tiny island of Kami- Kamagari in the Seto-uchi Inland Sea of Hiroshima Prefecture in Western Japan. It is one of 3,000 such small islands in Japan. The population is also tiny–a mere 2,777 according to the latest census. In 1984 archeological digging revealed an ancient (3rd to 4th century AD) salt-making pot. This find encouraged the locals to re-produce the historic ancient gray sea salt in 1998.

Mark Bitterman
The Meadow / gourmet salt – chocolate – wine – flowers

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One Response to “Moshio Japanse Seaweed Salt”

  1. on 16 Oct 2012 at 9:28 pmLouise

    Great article on Seaweed Salt. We have a seaweed business located in North Coastal BC Canada. We harvest and dry wild seaweeds, since 1995. We have been collecting the dry kelp salt that collects on the kelp drying sheet all these years. We have accumilated 20 pounds or so. This dry, white kelp salt is high in potassium and very very salty tasting, more so that sea salt. Do you know how this salt could be used in cooking?
    Thank You and Best Wishes,
    Louise Gaudet

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