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A natural salt plot on the island of Kauai.

Image: Kate McLean

Most of us have sampled Hawaiian Sea Salt, but I’m willing to bet you’ve never tried the real deal. That’s because actual Hawaiian sea salt, made according to ancient traditions, cannot be sold. It can only be gifted or traded by the 20 select families that have harvested the salt plots for over five generations at Salt Pond in Hanapepe Town on the west side of Kauai. 

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Image: Kate McLean

Just a little north of Salt Pond Beach Park, behind a rinky dink chain link fence, lie several oval clay beds that rise just five inches above the ground.  My friend Cathy Nyberg, who lives on Kauai, was recently invited on a very special field trip to these salt plots with her Hula sisters; access is typically family-only. Each bed is lined with freshly harvested black clay. Cathy was instructed to smooth the clay by hand with a lava rock that fit her hand perfectly, a vital part of this labor-intensive work.  

Nearby ocean water is caught and filtered through a volcanic tunnel that leads to a well on the property. Once the clay salt plot has dried, the ocean water is hoisted from the well with plastic buckets and poured into the bed. Depending upon the weather, the water will take as little as two months to evaporate, leaving behind piles of crunchy and delicious salt.

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Traditional sea salt, almost ready.

Image: Kate McLean

Cathy and her husband Ben were gifted several buckets of this special salt for their wedding. Those of us in attendance put it on everything, but most memorably on local heirloom tomatoes bought from the Kapa’a farmers market. The tomato smelled like it had been warmed in the sun, never refrigerated. The fresh, juicy flavor was enhanced by the crunchy sea salt, dissolving perfectly in the mouth. After the tomato was gone, we found ourselves casually snacking on the salt alone.

The always sunny Hanapepe Town is known as “Kauai’s biggest little town” and the “art capital” of Kauai. While the north shore of Kauai is lush and green, the west side is a stark contrast due to the natural red clay. Between the several art galleries, quaint restaurants and historic old sugar plantation, Hanapepe Town makes a great day trip in the least.  You’ll find charming shops selling unique Hawaiian wares, though any Hawaiian sea salt sold there has been made on the other islands and sent to Kauai to be packaged.

If you really want to try true Hawaiian sea salt, it’s best you snuggle up with someone from one of those 20 families. Or me.

Traveler's tips for visiting Hanapepe Town:

Editor's Note:  There are a few Hawaiian salt companies that do sell authentic sea salt, though not made in the traditional way described in this article, but instead at FDA-approved production facilities such as those operated by Hawaii Kai Co. and Kona Sea Salt. Always look for the Hawaiian Department of Agriculture's "Made in Hawaii with Aloha" sticker on packaging to ensure a product is really from Hawaii.

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