It is time to take salt to a new height.
Salt may be one of the oldest seasonings known to man. Food without a sprinkling of salt often tastes blah and lacking. Salt enlivens and balances many other flavors and makes the natural flavor of food pop.
Suddenly, salt is new and comes in many forms. Gone are the days limited to the plain grocery store canister or an iconic seasoned salt. Instead, we’ve entered the world of specialty salts: sea salt, kosher salt, pink Himalayan, gray fleur de sel and more dot the shelves of the local grocery store. It is fun and flavorful to explore all of the offerings.
I have discovered a Kansas City salt that has me captivated. Not from France, the Mediterranean or other far-off places. Here in our own city are salts with names and descriptions that entice.
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This local product is created and marketed by a brother-sister duo. Ben and Jess Anthony are the makers of Wood + Salt, which specializes in spice blends, brines, rubs, infused sugar and smoked finishing salts.
They grew up in Olathe. Jess worked for a time at the Merc, a Lawrence food co-op that features local foods. She also lived in the San Francisco Bay area for a while and was inspired by the artisans who sold their wares in the Ferry Building.
But she wanted a truly Kansas City connection, and nothing says Kansas City better than smoking and barbecuing. Ben was already into woodworking and smoking, so the two combined their talents and distinctive food tastes to create their company. A little more than two years ago, Wood + Salt was born.
Their website describes the sea salts as infused with botanicals or smoked in small batches, but just what is small batch smoking? Jess explained that they smoke one batch at a time, and each batch is a mixing bowl. Some larger bowls, some smaller bowls, but still, just a bowl.
One of their seasonal products is a winter smoked sea salt, which means the salt is smoked over cinnamon sticks, brown sugar, tea leaves and orange peel. Can you just imagine that sweet smoke?
These are finishing salts and add flavor to any food — from steaks to salmon, pasta dishes to popcorn. Just as the name finishing implies, prepare the food with little or no salt, then sprinkle the finishing salt over the food just before serving.
In the dead of winter, when grilling seems out of the question, a sprinkling of a smoked salt will add that special summer-time smoke flavor you are longing for. You could use an infused salt to deliciously edge the rim of a cocktail glass or to transform the flavor of omelets or vegetables from every day to exquisite.
I have been intrigued for years with salts flavored with wine, such as a Merlot. Wood + Salt did not disappoint. I also discovered a salt spiced with rye whiskey. Steaks and burgers sprinkled with wine or whiskey salt are delicious.
These distinctive local salts are a fun treat. They are the perfect last minute gift for anyone who loves to cook and make a delightful hostess gift. When traveling, it is ideal to take a hostess gift that speaks of Kansas City, and these little jars would pack and travel easily.
Wood + Salt products are available online and locally at a few gourmet and gift shops. Check their website for a listing of local shops. Prices range from about $12 to $15.
Kathy Moore is one of two cookbook authors and food consultants who make up the Electrified Cooks. Her most recent cookbook is “Slow Cooker Desserts: Oh So Easy, Oh So Delicious!” “The Newlywed Cookbook: Cooking Happily Ever After” was introduced earlier this year. She develops the recipes for the “Eating for Life” column for The Kansas City Star and is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier. She blogs at pluggedintocooking.com.