Maldon salt is a gourmet sea salt that has been harvested from the Blackwater estuary in the English town of Maldon since Roman times. Normally used as a finishing salt, it is prized for its clean, fresh flavour and large crunchy flakes.
A pinch or two of the right seasoning can take a dish from ordinary to extraordinary in an instant, with even the most basic ingredient like salt bringing depth and flavour to your cooking. You might think that all salt is the same, but in fact, there are several different types of salt, each with its own subtly different flavour and texture.
Maldon salt, from the small coastal town of Maldon in the English country of Essex, is a particular favourite of European chefs including Ferran Adrià, Jamie Oliver and Nigel Slater. Like all salt, Maldon is made of the chemical compound sodium chloride, but it also contains a unique combination of trace elements from the local seawater that make it taste subtly different to other types of salt. These trace elements give Maldon a uniquely clean, fresh taste - a light saltiness that teases the taste buds without overpowering. This, combined with large, pyramid-shaped flakes and an irresistible crunchy texture, makes Maldon a truly superior salt.
Salt has been harvested from the Blackwater estuary in Maldon for millennia, and the salt pans used to extract the salt even get a mention in the Domesday Book. The method, which involves evaporating seawater until it forms large crystals of salt, has remained basically the same since the days of the Roman occupation, although these days the process is hurried along a little by modern technology.
For the past hundred years or so, the salt has been harvested by the Maldon Crystal Salt Company, which was founded in 1882, and has been run by four generations of the same family since 1922. Maldon salt has graced the shelves of such prestigious outlets as Harrods and Fortnum and Mason, and in 2012 the company received a Royal Warrant as official purveyors of salt to Her Majesty the Queen, meaning they are now permitted to display the royal coat of arms on their packaging as a seal of quality.
As well as their regular salt crystals, Maldon produces a range of smoked sea salt flakes, which can be used to add a subtle smoky flavour to your dishes. Like the regular flakes, Maldon smoked sea salt flakes are prized for their lightness of touch, adding just a hint of smokiness to food without overpowering it.
What is Maldon sea salt used for?
Maldon sea salt is used as a finishing salt, meaning it is added to the dish after cooking. The secret to Maldon’s unique taste is in the trace elements from the local seawater, its crunchy pyramid texture, and its flat, pyramid-shaped structure that spreads the flavour across the tongue before melting. Unfortunately, these unique features will be lost during the cooking process. The subtle trace elements will be crowded out by other flavours, and the crunchy, tasty crystals will dissolve. For this reason, Maldon sea salt is best sprinkled over the dish after cooking, preserving its taste and structure. If you do need to add salt during the cooking process, it is better to use ordinary table salt, rather than wasting expensive sea salt.
Maldon has a classic sea salt look, and can make a real feature at the dinner table. Its large, clear crystals look great in a salt cellar or salt pig, and it’s really tactile too, so people will enjoy taking a pinch to season their own food. You may even find that using sea salt with larger flakes means that people are satisfied with less salt on their food, as a few flakes look like a lot of salt and provide a bigger crunch.
Ways to cook with Maldon sea salt
Everything tastes better with a pinch of salt, and doubly so with a gourmet salt like Maldon. You can add it to sautéed vegetables, grilled meats and steaks, fish, salads and scrambled eggs. Just be sure to add it after cooking to get the maximum benefit of that delicious clean taste and crunchy texture.
Salt isn’t just for savoury dishes, either, as any fan of salted caramel will tell you. Try adding a pinch to freshly baked brownies or cookies, or to an indulgent caramel sauce for a perfect complement to your favourite sweet treat. Salt goes well with chocolate, butterscotch, and, of course, with caramel, so feel free to experiment with salted desserts as well as main courses. You can even use Maldon to rim cocktail glasses, adding a touch of class to your favourite Margarita or Bloody Mary.
Maldon smoked sea salt can be added to dishes to give them a smoky, chargrilled flavour. It tastes great with chicken, meat and fish, or sprinkled over corn on the cob with a touch of butter. As with the regular sea salt, you should always add the smoked sea salt after cooking to make the most of the flavour. If you want more saltiness than smokiness, simply add some basic table salt during cooking and finish the dish with smoked sea salt afterwards.
Differences between Maldon sea salt and pink salt of the Himalayas
You may be wondering how Maldon sea salt compares to other well-known specialty salts, like pink Himalayan salt. Pink Himalayan salt is mined rather than extracted by evaporation like Maldon salt, so it is classified as rock salt rather than sea salt. Its source is the Khewra Salt Mine in Pakistan, near the Himalayan mountains. Like Maldon salt, part of what makes Himalayan salt unique is its trace minerals (it contains up to 84 different ones by some counts). One of the minerals is iron, which is responsible for its pinkish tint. Some claim that these minerals makes this salt extremely healthy, though there is a lack of research to back up this claim.
Since pink Himalayan salt is extracted from underground, the size of its grains can vary widely, unlike the more standard range of sizes of Maldon sea salt. Some people even use entire blocks of this rock salt to cook meat or other foods. However, Himalayan salt does not have the same range of flavours as Maldon salt, which offers smoked varieties that impart a different taste.