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Fleur de Sel

Fleur de sel

What’s that must-have in our kitchen cupboards, that little ingredient which will make our food more appetizing, more exciting?

It’s salt of course -- we reach for it every day.  Without salt, our food would be almost tasteless; salt seasons and perfects the simplest of dishes.

The Egyptians recognized the food preservation qualities of salt, using it for processing meat; 5,000 years later the ancient Greeks used it for salting fish.

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Today, we have different forms of salt; unrefined salt, refined salt and iodized salt.

They’ve been producing unrefined salt in Southern Brittany, off the Atlantic since the Iron Age. Salt harvesting is an art, perfected over the years in the Guérande salt marshes with its three sets of shallow pools separated by walls of dried clay all in an area of 2,000 hectares – a totally natural site dedicated to producing authentic and natural salt.

Terre De Sel

The salt they produce here is reputed to be one of the best. But Salt gathering is not always easy, at least not in the town of Gwerann where Guérande salt is produced. Called Paludiers, salt gatherers need to be strong as they spend much time outdoors and use no machines. And you need specific weather conditions to produce this fine salt – lots of sunshine and wind.

How do they get salt from the sea?

As the saltwater from the Atlantic flows through a succession of pools, the Paludier adjusts the water levels.  
During high tide, he first opens a valve allowing sea water to fill into the first pool often referred to as the settling pool because sea particles will be deposited at the bottom.

Settling Pond
Evaporation Ponds

The next set of pools, shallower than the first, is called the evaporation pool. When there is enough sun and wind, the moisture is evaporated and we have salt.

The final reservoir is even shallower; called the oillet, this is where the salt is harvested. Most of it sinks to the bottom. This is coarse grey salt, rich in magnesium and naturally grey because of the clay at the bottom. The Paludier uses a las to create small waves so he can collect this coarse salt (gros sel)

If the weather is just right, and only in the summer, harvesters will see floating on the surface of the pool  a fine skin of crystals; this is the exclusive, much demanded Fleur de sel de Guérande, the most prestigious of all salts, the salt connoisseurs crave.  You need good weather conditions though, to get Fleur de Sel   – very dry days with a dry east wind.

As the salt fields are long and narrow, it is easy to sweep this Flower of Salt using a wooden rake.  The small piles of crystal flakes are slightly tinged with violet.

Fleur de Sel

If it rains, harvesting has to stop because the salt will dissolve.

Gourmets, top chefs and even famous pâtissiers all use fleur de sel; not as strong as sea salt, this fine, white salt is sometimes referred to white gold, because it is simply the best.
As we, consumers and gourmets become more demanding it is imperative that this organic sea salt harvesting industry in Southern Brittany continues. Besides, it provides a most remarkable beautiful and natural landscape.

Alice Alech is a non fiction writer. Based in France she writes about French lifestyle, culture, history and food. Find her at
Her book -- An Olive Oil Tour of France shows the special place of olive oil production in France.

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