The Philippines with its thousands of islands should produce its own natural, organic salt. It should be our contribution to the world,” said Johnny Khonghun of Aro-En Gourmet Salt.
The salts of Aro-En (from the Pangasinense phrase “to love”) are produced from the environmentally protected pristine seawaters of Zaragoza barangay in Bolinao. Pangasinan actually comes from the root word “salt” or “Pang-asin-an.”
Aro-En’s 500-hectare salt farm is devoted to the production of mineral sea salts and its gourmet salt variants, which come in 16 varieties. The inspiration behind its growing gourmet line is to give Filipino chefs more flavorful possibilities.
Chemical vs mineral salt
According to Khonghun, not all salts are created equal.
Salts that are commonly sold in the market are imported and designed to be used for chemicals and not for food.
The ideal flavor enhancements for food are natural sea salts, whose minerals and nutrients contain health benefits.
Khonghun said that the minerals found in sea salt help open the taste buds, resulting in a delicious gustatory experience.
This, he explained, is not the case when using chemical salt, which
is just plain salty—masking the tongue and robbing it of all the other flavors present in a dish. To prove his point, he added a pinch of bitter salt to my coffee. Strangely enough, it became a full-bodied, rounded cup, with a hint of sweetness. I then noticed a tingling of the taste buds.
A good sprinkle of Aro-En Gourmet Salt will bring depth, as well as new life, to old recipes. Each variant, applied to the same dish, will make it taste different.
Here’s a sample of those variants:
Bitter salt—powerfully acrid; a finishing salt. It enhances coffee, citrus fruits
and sour dishes.
Chili salt—pepper red, clusters of granules, spicy with a balanced, hot mouth feel. A cooking and finishing salt. Use for Spanish food, salsa, steamed vegetables, spicy stews,
Calamansi salt—lime green, fine granules. Tart, bright citron notes.
Finishing and seasoning salt—use on grilled fish, salads, any kind of shellfish, kilawin and cocktail drinks such as margarita.
Confectioner salt—powdery, fine granules. Mild oceanic water taste, clean finish. For finishing, baking and dusting. Use on chocolate, cakes and pastries, desserts, ice cream and brownies.
Salt flakes—metallic, crispy. Cooking and finishing salt. Use on smoked duck, salad, fish, cookies, pretzels, savory pies.
Fleur de sel—mild, woody. Cooking and finishing salt. Use on red pasta sauce, roast pork, broiled and grilled meats and seafood, food with sauces, buttered toast, bananas and tropical fruits.
Garlic pepper salt—pungent, subdued sweetness, crunchy. For rubbing and finishing. Use on garlic or buttered bread, meats, potato, beef stews, steak and eggs.
Lemon pepper salt—tangy and with a zesty undertone. A finishing and cooking salt. Use on pan-fried salmon, gravlax, fish and shellfish.
Mild one sea salt—saline mist, crunchy. Glistening white natural pyramid salt chips for finishing. Use on salad, salsa, fruits, cakes, pastries.
Mineral sea salt—savory, delicate with a clean finish. Cooking and finishing salt. Use on pasta water, Hawaiian and Mexican dishes, all types of Filipino dishes, raw beef, salt crust baking, bulalo.
Rosemary salt—initially tart, intense, herby finish. Salt for rubbing and finishing. Use on chicken, cheese, pesto, turkey.
Sel gris—briny, earthy salt for cooking and finishing. Use on seafood, grilled prawn and fish, fried vegetables, steak and lamb, saucy fish dishes.
Shio—very fine grains, dissolves instantly and completely. Bittersweet, with a lingering sweetness. For cooking and finishing. Use on Japanese beef, raw fish, fried foods, seasonal berries, avocado, pineapple, Asian noodles, tempura.
Smoked eucalyptus salt—ember, char-grilled, complex flavor. Salt for rubbing and finishing. Use on mushrooms, pasta, prawns, shrimp and crab.
Vanilla bean sea salt—flaky finishing salt with a hint of sweetness. Aromatic and mild. Use on caramel, pastries, macaron, tomato soup, panna cotta, leche flan, smoothie, chocolate.
Smoked salt—auburn brown, bacon, cedar, smoky flavored salt for cooking and finishing. Use on crème brulee, vanilla ice cream, rabbit meat, fatty fish, barbecue, tropical fruit dip.
Aro-En also produces Thalasso Mineral Sea Salt for your home, pools tubs, Jacuzzis. Benefits include stress relief, younger skin, accelerated wound healing, acne prevention, controlled eczema, psoriasis, reduced wrinkles.
Khonghun has been in the salt business for decades. “Natural mineral sea salt is God’s gift to humanity, mainly for food, for our nourishment,” he said.