Outer Banks sea salt: ‘This doesn’t happen anywhere else’
BUXTON, N.C. (AP) — Brian and Shaena McMahon were vacationing 10 years ago in St. Martin in the Caribbean when they decided to make their own salt.
His father’s house there was near the ocean. Brian had seen salt-making operations before while in the Coast Guard and had cleaned dried salt from boats.
They dipped out some blue-green Caribbean water and poured it onto the metal pan of a toaster oven. The seawater evaporated after a few days, leaving a deposit of white flakes.
“We were surprised how much salt was in the water,” he said.
An idea for a business was born.
The New Jersey couple lived in Buxton years ago while Brian served in the Coast Guard and loved it. When the couple moved back to Buxton four years ago, they were in the perfect spot to try making sea salt.
The Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current converge here, mixing minerals from the far reaches of the Atlantic Ocean.
Himalayan salts and fleur de sel from France are world-renowned. Maybe Hatteras salt can get there one day, Brian said.
“This does not happen anywhere else on Earth,” he said. “It is mineral-rich.”
The McMahons have operated Hatteras Saltworks since getting approval from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture two years ago.
Sea salt popularity has soared in recent years. Many chefs prefer its taste and texture over mined table salt. It has more minerals such as magnesium and does not typically contain additives. While some sea salt promotions say otherwise, sodium content is the same, according to the American Heart Association.
Eating too much salt may be bad, but not getting enough may be worse, according to a report on Healthline.com. Low-salt diets can increase the risk of heart disease, elevate cholesterol and increase insulin resistance, among other things, the report said.
Last week, Brian — dressed in a T-shirt, shorts and sunglasses — pointed to one of the black plastic bins sitting in the sun. Dried salt formed tiny lines along the sides of the bin as the water evaporated, similar to tree rings.
“See that sediment? That’s daily,” he said.
The McMahons lease a spot behind Fox Watersports on N.C. Route 12 and almost in the shadow of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
Brian collects sea water by pumping from the surf at the Avon Fishing Pier at high tides on full moons when the salt content is highest.
For solar evaporators, he built 100 boxes from scrap lumber collected after storms. The yard looks like an array of solar panels.
He topped the boxes with windows discarded from beach homes. In each evaporator are three plastic bins. The Outer Banks sun bakes through the glass, bringing temperatures to 170 to 190 degrees inside.
That’s high enough to reach the “kill step,” eliminating any bacteria, Brian said.
After about a month, the water is gone, leaving behind white salt deposit. A gallon of seawater produces about 4 ounces of salt, the size of one of their $10 packages for sale. The McMahons crush it into smaller grains and package it. Hatteras Saltworks offers three flavors — pure, smoked or rosemary.
The couple sells the salt to several Outer Banks shops.
“It’s a labor of love,” Brian said.
Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com