On the Gulf Coast, we’re surrounded by salt. Salt air, salt water and salt grass are all around us, and two League City residents are now putting that salt in the kitchen.
John and Ann Hancock have become regulars at local farmers markets with their Salt Masters products derived from Gulf of Mexico salt water. “Our salt is hand-harvested, and unrefined,” John Hancock said. “Most salt has buffering agents and anti-caking agents, but ours is natural.”
The Hancocks named their salts Isla Blanca in reference to their origin. “Padre Island was called Isla Blanca by the Spanish,” John Hancock said. “I make monthly trips to South Padre Island to get salt water, because the water there is not only very clean but has almost the same salinity as at the center of the Gulf of Mexico.
Hancock explained that a strong current moves water from the Yucatán to South Padre Island. From there, he retrieves it and begins the filtering and evaporation process. “Our salt is never subjected to high temperatures,” he explained. “It takes about a gallon of water to produce three and a half ounces of salt.”
Separating salt from water isn’t totally new to Hancock. He spent years on the tiny Caribbean island of St. Eustatius involved in process technology to desalinate the water used by the population. “Desalination is primarily where their drinking water comes from,” Hancock noted. “My end goal is to make a solar powered system that produces salt and distilled water.”
In addition to pure salt, the Hancocks mix their salt with other spices to create blends. “Right now, we have a seasoned sea salt that is all natural, made with coconut sugar and other natural ingredients,” he said. “We also have a seasoning blend that is made with sea salt, dark roasted chili powder, and other spices, and we’ll be bringing out some other blends soon.”
While salt is one of the most versatile spices, Hancock suggests using the sea salt as a finishing salt, added at serving time to food once it is cooked. “Our customers tell us that they end up using less salt than they used to, because the flavor is so prominent,” he related. “Our flake salt melts very well, and melts into the food for a subtle burst of flavor.”
Hancock has researched both the science and history of salt. “Salt is one of the oldest foods,” he noted. “The word “salary” is derived from the Latin word for salt, because in the Roman Empire soldiers were actually paid with salt. Salt was a prized commodity among pirates in the Caribbean, because they needed it to preserve their food for sea voyages.”
Although salt is now ubiquitous, Hancock is aiming to restore some of that mystique and specialness by creating a unique product that captures a bit of the Gulf Coast in a bottle.