Tasman Sea Salt
FROM THE SEA: Tasman Sea Salt founders Chris Manson and Alice Laing harvest sea salt using traditional methods alongside innovative new clean energy technologies. IMAGE: Supplied
A soft, scraping noise fills the factory as Tasman Sea Salt co-founder Alice Laing moves a rake over the coarse crystals filling the salt pans; the movement fills the air with a briny scent. The sustainably harvested salt is at the end stages of a traditional evaporation process used by Alice and partner Chris Manson to produce 100 per cent natural, unrefined sea salt flakes from the pristine waters of Great Oyster Bay. Leasing a small parcel of land from Little Swanport farmer Bruce Dunbabin, the couple proudly incorporate innovative clean energy technologies to harvest the fundamental seasoning. "The seas around Tasmania are some of the cleanest in the world, so all we do to produce our pure white sea salt flakes is evaporate off fresh water," Alice said. "Protecting this pristine environment that our salt comes from was very important to us, so we designed a salt harvesting process that uses clean energy sources throughout."
Making the move from London to the East Coast in 2013, Alice and Chris say they arrived with nowhere to live or set up the business. "It was quite a big move - but we had been inspired by the amazing natural resource that is these waters and knew that we could make a truly world class salt here. It has been a steep learning curve but an amazing journey." Within nine months of arriving, they had managed to establish their saltworks and harvest their first batch of sea salt. "We started the business with a very thorough business plan and, while we are still on track to where we hoped to be, it has taken us a bit longer than we had anticipated. "We knew we had a fantastic product - due to the amazing natural resource we have here in Tasmania - but scaling up our harvesting process to meet growing demand was probably more difficult than we expected it to be." Alice said the unique nature of the business meant the pair were often tackling the unknown. "There is no one else in the world doing anything similar - so when things go wrong there isn't really anyone you can call on for advice. You just need to work things through as best you can."
Ready to expand
Today, the pair are excited to finalise a significant expansion at the saltworks. "We were previously able to produce about 22 tonnes of salt a year but, with the expansion in place, we will be able to produce around 39t per annum, in a good year. "We are very excited to have got our current expansion in place and are proud of what we have achieved so far. However, in a La Nina year it will be significantly less than this." Alice said recent production capacity had been heavily impacted by La Nina, which will continue to develop throughout the coming summer months. "Our harvesting process is all about evaporation, so we need the really dry conditions that are usual for this part of Tasmania. All this wet weather has really affected our production. "It is very unusual to get two La Nina weather systems in a row but, unfortunately, it is likely that these extreme weather patterns will continue," she said. "However, we are lucky that salt doesn't deteriorate, so this will allow us to build up brine and salt in good years and then, when the weather conditions are not so favourable for salt making we should have plenty in store to get us through." For Alice and Chris the harvesting process involves plenty of patience and diligence, overseeing the essential stages which include evaporation, crystallisation, drying and packaging. "We created an innovative evaporation system that harnesses the naturally occurring energy sources available to us here in Tasmania, in order to evaporate fresh water from the sea water. "The system uses evaporative cooling to take advantage of the dry climate. The process is then accelerated by the transfer of naturally occurring thermal energy into the evaporator system - utilising solar hot water, from evacuated solar panels, during the day when the sun is shining, and heat from the thermal mass of the ocean during the night." Alice said the entire process is 'incredibly clean' and the only by-product is freshwater. "Once our evaporator has created a super saturated brine from the sea water, we move this to our crystallisation pans where we heat it very gently, causing salt flakes to form on the surface of the brine. "They sink down and are collected to be put into our dryer to be dried before packaging." With the success of their business evident, Alice and Chris are in talks to expand into a new agritourism venture at the beginning of next year. "We always love showing people around the saltworks as it is a really unique and interesting harvesting process - but salt is also one of the most essential of cooking ingredients. "We are looking to combine tours of the saltworks with a bit of a dive into the importance of salt as a seasoning, how it affects taste, the different ways you can use it, along with tasting pairings with our different salts and salt mixes."
*First published November 2021 for Tasmanian Farmer Newspaper - owned by Australian Community Media.