Meet the Man Who Reinvented Salt in America
Officially launching his enterprise in 2011, Ben Jacobsen upended America’s perception of hand-harvested sea salt when he created Jacobsen Salt Co.
Photo by Nolan Calisch.
After living in Denmark and Norway for nearly six years, Ben Jacobsen's perception of salt changed. Discovering an entirely new way to use the product and debunking typical American notions of the granulated stuff, Ben began the three-and-a-half-year process to fine-tune his craft. Officially launching his enterprise in 2011, Ben upended America's perception of hand-harvested sea salt when he created the now well-known brand Jacobsen Salt Co.
Taking his knowledge back to the Pacific Northwest after his Nordic travels, Ben began perfecting his process. The first step required a two-month exploratory journey of discovery: On a search to find the region's best waters for optimal salt-harvesting conditions, Ben began testing samples from Neah Bay in Washington to Gold Beach in Oregon. He finally identified Oregon's Netarts Bay as the best of the bunch. "It's all about the water," says Ben. "And the water in Netarts Bay is very clean and clear and has a higher salinity than other parts of the coast—34 parts-per-thousand, to be exact." In addition to this consistency, loads of oyster colonies are farmed in Netarts Bay every year. With every mollusk filtering up to 25 gallons of water per day individually, you end up with great waters for salt harvesting.
Identifying his location of choice, Ben began hauling 2,000 pounds of salt water each week from the Oregon coast into Portland, staying up for 72 hours at a time per batch. "It was definitely a strange thing that people didn't understand," says Ben, looking back on this stage of his company. Harvesting fine sea salt wasn't a concept people could readily grasp, as they thought Ben's operation wasn't sustainable for the long term. "It was a very exhausting time, but I was all in," says Ben. "I loved what I was doing, and I wanted to talk to customers and chefs that loved our salts."
Developing a clean, briny flavor with no bitter aftertaste, Ben perfected his now signature translucent crystal that breaks apart easily—hand-harvested, pure-white sea salt. Unlike typical granulated rock salts, Ben's variety has a smooth texture, creating a contrast to the food you put it on, ending each bite with a delicate crunch.
Ben enlists a multi-step process in a filtering system of his own design. After filtering sea water from Netarts Bay, Ben boils the water down to remove excess calcium and magnesium, which ultimately creates his salt's signature briny taste—as opposed to a harsh, bitter flavor of calcified varieties. After the water evaporates, Ben and his team harvest the remaining salt crystals, letting them drain and dry in a pan. All in all, the drying process takes about 36 hours.
Jacobsen Salt Co. doesn't limit its product line to just plain sea salt, though. It offers creative flavors like infused pinot noir salt and white truffle salt, as well as innovative treats like the Treehouse Cherrywood Drinking Chocolate, which combines chocolate by Treehouse Chocolate Co. topped with flakes of Jacobsen's Cherrywood smoked salt.
"We're going to keep continuing down the path of making the best salt in America—hopefully on the planet," says Ben. "But we do want to utilize the ingredients we work with to make other products as well." In spring 2017, Ben plans to launch an apothecary line that includes bath salts and bar soaps.
But Ben is most proud of his collaboration with his sister company, Bee Local. "We collaborated on a product called Honey Water, which is made with Bee Local Honey and Jacobsen's salt," says Ben. A simple syrup made with raw American wildflower honey, Honey Water is currently available in a number of cafes and bars across Portland.
"It's simple, but it utilizes the best elemental ingredients," says Ben. "And that's what we do best."