While some people watch their dreams evaporate, evaporation is a key part of Alex Dyas’ dreams. Literally. He just wants to come home to the Valley and the Annapolis Basin that he loves so much.
“I’ve always wanted to have something that we can do here in the Valley,” he says. “Growing up here – I love Annapolis Royal, I love the Basin – and I always had different ideas of how I could come back here and do something.”
It’s a bright sunny morning at the Farmers and Traders Market in Annapolis Royal and big crowds of people push through Market Square looking for all manner of goods – from the first produce of the season to fresh fish caught out on the bay.
Dyas has his own table at the market, and while it has a touristy touch to it with the Nova Scotia tartan and lighthouses, it’s really a lot more utilitarian than that. He’s selling sea salt that he and his family produce by hand in nearby Karsdale.
Salt & Light Sea Salt Co. is a family business with everybody pitching in. While it wasn’t his first thought when it came to creating his own business so he could move back home from Montreal, it may have been the best.
He has wife Sylvia Abadir to thank for that.
“Some of the ideas were maybe I could do some type of farming, or something like that,” he said of his early efforts to create a business he could come home to. “When I met my wife, who is French, she introduced me to the French cuisine and their different sea salts. I remember her one day for my birthday … buying a Sel de Guerande, it’s a special sea salt from France and I just loved it. So I said ‘hey, that is something that I know could work in the Annapolis Basin.’ So I started reading on it and just thought we would give it a try, trying to produce the salt here.”
People love the unique flavours of sea salt, but Dyas realized early on that the way they produce it in France won’t work here because of the difference in climate.
“Then I saw that there are certain methods that can be done here,” he said. “And they traditionally probably would have done something similar to what we’re doing. I’m sure that the Acadians would have had to produce some of their own salt.”
The process of desalination Dyas uses involves pumping water from the Annapolis Basin into holding tanks. The brine is pumped through filters and then evaporated either through solar evaporation in small greenhouses or by wood or gas burners. All of the salt is hand harvested and dried before being sorted and packaged.
He has a brochure that lists the different products Salt & Light produces: Fleur de Sel, Traditional Sea Salt, Smoked Salt, Salted Caramel, and even something called Sea Salt Hair Spray.
“Most people find it’s very unique,” he says. “They love having something local and sustainable, and a lot of people are surprised you could do something like that here. A lot of people like the idea of the local, the sustainable aspect of it. And a lot of people say they can taste the difference in the sea salt versus table salt or mined salt.”
Dyas’ product is doesn’t add anything to the sea salt unadulterated.
“We don’t add anything,” he says. “That has its pluses and minuses. It’s pure sea salt, so on that aspect this is pure ocean water, and on the other side we do have a moist climate.” The latter means sea salt loves to attract moisture -- but Dyas doesn’t put anything in the product to counter that.
“So you have to keep it in a sealed container and dry it out if it does get wet,” he explains.
Dyas’ parents are at his farm market table and they’ve been with him on the sea salt quest right from the start.
“It’s really a family adventure,” he says. His wife, kids, and grandmother help too.
“We did get the salt tested and it has over 35 trace minerals in it,” says Dyas. “We had to go through testing to make sure it didn’t have heavy metals or any pollutions. But it also, naturally, has over 35 other traces elements and that adds to its flavour. I can’t make a health claim, but I believe it is beneficial.”
He describes salt as an essential element for health and happiness.
“It is an ingredient that has been used throughout human history to enrich the flavour and preserve food,” the brochure says. “Before the invention of electric refrigeration, salting meat was the main way to preserve it. In fact, the Annapolis Basin at many points in its long history has been the home of prosperous fisheries that selt salted fish to cities along the east coast of North America from Maine to the Caribbean.”
Dyas grew up on that basin and went to Annapolis West Education Centre for Grades 9 and 10 before moving away to go to school in Montreal. But his family roots here go back to the 1700s. He went to McGill University and he’s been trying to come back ever since.
“I’m here for almost three months in the summer,” he says.
People press around his table asking about the sea salt. He explains about the gift from the sea that could bring him back home for good.
Did you know?
Salt & Light’s sea salt moisture content is around 10 to 15 per cent. It enables the salt to slowly dissipate in the mouth, and for example, to keep its shape on a slice of tomato long enough to add texture. When sprinkled over meat like steak or chicken, it also helps in sealing them without dehydrating them.
Did you know?
Salt & Light’s sea salt crystals form in almost perfect pyramids, which shape and size enable unique taste dispersion and texture with every bite.