With a presence in over 100 of the best delicatessens in the UK and well beyond, plus a place on the shelves of some of the nation’s best regarded chain food stores, Halen Môn sea salt is an impressive business that now employs 20 people on the Island of Anglesey, Môn Mam Cymru, (Môn the mother of Wales). Yet its origins boil down to a few salt crystals remaining in a pan of seawater left to simmer on the stove in a family kitchen.
It was then that Alison and David Wilson knew they had found something very special in the famously clean waters that lap the exquisite coastline of their island. Filtered through sand and mussel beds, nature had done much of the work, leaving them with the task of distilling its offering into the pure white crystals that many regard as the finest sea salt in the world. They had a hunch it might be so – the seahorses had testified as much. These delicate and spectacularly hard to please creatures had multiplied happily in the waters at their Sea Zoo that they set up in 1983 (and became Wales’ largest aquarium). If the water was good enough for them...
The aquarium, and the fish and game business they ran alongside it (clearly these people have never been lacking in energy) enabled the couple to fulfil their dream of living on the island they had fallen in love with whilst they were students at Bangor University. Both though were seasonal enterprises that demanded they find a way of making money in the winter months. Sea salt proved to be the beautiful briny solution.
They weren’t the first to think of it – sea salt had been made on the island until the latter part of the 18th century, until that particular pillar came crashing down when the makers were found to be turbocharging their brine with rock salt from Cheshire and were handed a hefty fine for doing so. These days there’s nothing in the mix but the ocean itself, the labour of those who hand harvest it and the ingenuity of the Wilsons in adding a judicious amount of new technology that makes the process efficient and sustainable. Actually, that’s not quite the whole truth – whilst the simple unadulterated white flakes are the mainstay of their business, the addition of a well sourced range of complementary seasonings like roasted garlic, chilli, vanilla and organic spices have, together with a kiln-smoked version, cleverly widened the appeal of their offering.
Looking at the success of the business now (it’s a family affair that involves all three of the Wilson children) it’s entertaining to note that sea salt wasn’t the only idea kicked around back then as they searched for ways to put the winter months to work. Selling bottles of multi-coloured sand and solid sandcastles were amongst the ideas that came under semi-serious consideration before the saline seasoning won the day. You’d have to say they backed the right seahorse.