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In Pursuit of ‘Delicious!’ Discovering the Special Salt Born from the Powers of the Sun and Wind at Tarama Sea Salt Research Facility (Tarama Island)
post : 2018.10.17 08:00
Crystalized under the brilliant rays of the sun and the sea breeze, the natural salts produced from the beautiful seawater here do not use any sort of fuel like heavy oils or even firewood in its production, just the natural powers of nature. Turning seawater to salt isn’t as easy as many may think. To make that your business, your livelihood, is something that many are not willing to undertake, and people may think you’re either really gutsy or simply, a little odd.
Okinawa is truly full of unique people; maybe the mild climate throughout the year (aside from typhoons) offers a liberating environment that nurtures diverse minds and accepting openness compared to the rest of Japan. Whatever the reason, there are people here that have taken on various challenges with open arms, and a producer of 100% natural salts is one of them. I heard about a man doing just that on Tarama Island, which is about 20 minutes from Miyako Island by propeller aircraft, so I had to go pay a visit to learn more.
On the way there, I wondered what this person might be like, and how the salts he produces taste. My curiosity led me to Mr. Hidenori Nagaoka of Tarama Sea Salt Research Facility, who has a great smile, and strongly believes that “salt isn’t supposed to be just salty.”
I tasted the salt that Mr. Nagaoka proudly makes, and my first impression was, “Wow, what’s this?” It was unlike any salt I’ve tasted. There was no salty sharpness, but it was mild, and to my surprise, it almost tasted sweet.
“In salt production, even if you use the same salt water, you won’t end up with the same taste. My way of making salt is based on ‘bringing out the sweetness in salt’. I’m always looking for ways to make sweet-tasting salt,” Mr. Nagaoka explains. According to him, the secret in making sweet salt is to spend plenty of time in the crystalizing process. In the mid-summers, he says it takes about three weeks, and other times of the year, it takes two to three months in the crystalizing process conducted in a tent.
Once crystalized, the salt goes through a final process outside the tent and directly under the sun. He came up with this step through what he calls the ‘sour persimmon theory’, where mouth-puckering persimmons are dried under the sun to bring out the sweetness. “It takes great care in not drying out the salt too much, as that also vaporizes the minerals and changes the content which gives it that sharp taste I want to avoid,” he says. “That’s why I check every hour or two during this step and taste the changing taste.”
He says the reason why his salts have a mild, rounded flavor is because he allows the moisture to evaporate carefully during the completely natural, under-the-sun crystalizing method. He shares that the secret to the gentle flavor is by mainting the mineral content and alleviating the impact on the seawater. “I happen to have some salt that I crystalized over six months. It has an especially rounded taste,” he says as he offered me a taste. It was indeed sweeter than the salt I tried first, which was already surprisingly sweet to begin with.
“It’s time-consuming and doesn’t really yield much in sales, but the reason why I continue this method of sun-drying is because I have my own philosophies of finding the right taste, the taste that makes me say ‘this is it!’” he says. Mr. Nagaoka was a photo journalist when he first came across a chance to really think about salt. He was on a photography tour of Vietnam when he stopped by Hong Kong on his way back. There, he had too much to drink and ended up being hospitalized for a month. During his hospital stay, he was hooked up to an IV that flowed saline into his body until he was fully recovered. That’s what got him wondering about salt.
After that, he took the advice of a friend to take some time to rest in Kumamoto, when he decided to start producing salt on Tsuji Island in Amakusa, famous for dolphin watching. This is where he began his journey in the world of salt-production.
Eventually, his interests brought him to Okinawa, where salt-making is the most abundant in all of Japan. He travelled through the islands of Okinawa and settled on Tarama Island because of the impressive transparency of the seawater, and because what he was looking for was backed by scientific data.
“In the world of salts, some people worship it as though it’s an all-healing medicine, but we have to remember, too much of salt, too much of anything, is not good. Balance is important. Just like alcohol,” he says, as he lets out a big laugh. Some of the Shio or salts that he makes includes the popular “Kugani Mashu,” and the matured salt, “Nigari Shio,” as well as the course salt, “Shio no Hana”. He also makes “Kaiso Shio” (seaweed salt), “Wine Shio” and “Curry Shio”. His salts are available at Tarama Airport for 300 yen per 30 grams for each selection, or 700 yen per 100 grams. While you enjoy a little ‘salt talk’ with Mr. Nagaoka, I also recommend trying his popular Shio Coffee too.
Address: 2351-7 Nakasuji, Tarama Village, Miyako-gun, Okinawa
Hours: Arrival/Departure Times of Flights
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Nobuya Fukuda