A taste of South Africa: Oryx Desert Salt

Salt. It’s one of the major elements our taste buds seek. It’s been considered so valuable throughout history, Roman soldiers were paid with it — that’s how we get our word, “salary”. It adds “snap” to foods and drinks both savory and sweet. Now, one of our most ancient craved flavors is available from the Mother continent, Africa. The Kalahari Desert, which extends into South Africa, is the source of Oryx Desert Salt. I was happy to be hosted to experience it! In the US, it’s available on Amazon.com.

This is a sustainable, pure salt with an ancient source: right in the middle of the desert, there’s a subterranean lake fed by streams. So, this salt never gets in contact with industrial or fishing waste. It dries quickly and naturally in the hot African sun. Though harvested in the desert, it interestingly contains the same minerals as ocean (sea) salt: including magnesium, zinc and potassium. Containers are made from recycled materials and there are cotton-sacked refills for the salt grinders.

Oryx Desert Salt has a global following among gourmet chefs. I’m sure that American chefs will soon join their ranks. Here are some of their accolades:

“It’s the only salt I use. It really has a fantastic flavour. In comparative tastings, the difference is immediately noticeable, and it fits in with my philosophy: to close borders, to remain local.” – Margot Janse, Le Quartier Francais, Franschhoek

“ORYX salt is a great food salt. I use it as a salt on a day to day basis, as well as a finishing salt. The salt is everything I look for when it comes to flavour.” – Craig Cormack, Sofia’s at Morgenster Estate, Somerset West.
“I use this salt because I find that the flavour of the final product is better. Salt is a critical part of the curing process and the amount used is very precise in order to prevent the product from spoiling. With ORYX desert SALT I don’t have to worry about the salt overpowering the flavour of the meat. I don’t use less but end up with a better product. I was using sea salt previously but prefer the flavour of the mineral salt.” – Richard Bosman – Richard Bosman charcuterie

I sampled 3 flavors, including the original.

Oryx Desert Salt Grinder adjusts, just like a pepper grinder. You can get a very fine grind. It has a clean, salty flavor — not a burning or chemical taste, but an enhancer that you want on your popcorn, baked potatoes, chicken soup. It allows the foods to stand out.

Oryx Desert Wine Salt Grinder is infused with Shiraz red wine. It has naturally bright salt flavors, with the sophisticated fruit-wine tang.

I have a vintage cookbook from Chicago, The Edgewater Beach Hotel Salad Book. It was authored by Arnold Shircliffe, the hotel’s catering manager and himself a collector of ancient cookbooks. I was actually born 5 minutes away from this famous culinary destination and my grandmother moved one block away. I feel like delicious food is part of my birthright! In Shircliffe’s book, he lists thousands of recipes for salads, incorporating subtle flavor enhancers such as fruit juices, wine, herbs, flavored creams, vinaigrette and mayonnaise.

I scoured the recipes for a good one to incorporate the Desert Wine Salt. I took baby spinach and added finely sliced raw onion — the book extols onions in salad like the possibility of the Second Coming — along with heirloom oranges from Florida and half a banana. I created a mayonnaise based dressing (they loved mayo dressings back then!), stirred in some homemade creme fraiche, a pack of sweetener, Ceylon cinnamon and the lovely Desert Wine Salt. All of the fruit and savory flavors worked in complete harmony!

Desert Smoked Salt is cold-smoked with French Oak. There are rare bourbons are aged in charred French oak barrels! This salt doesn’t have that phony taste of artificial “smoke flavor”. It has more of a grilled flavor, rich tasting. It would be perfect with steak, salmon, cottage cheese. One recent afternoon, I got the butcher to grind up some very fresh London broil and I created steak tartare for lunch! If you’ve never made it at home, be aware that you have to use a lot more salt and pepper than you would with cooked meat. It’s probably because of the higher water content. Desert Smoked Salt was a perfect seasoning!

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