Amabito no Moshio
The first revival in Japan of harvesting salt based on the ancient methods of the "amabito," or sea people, Amabito no Moshio is a flavorful and nutritious seaweed salt designed for modern everyday use.
The island of Kami-kamagari, where Amabito no Moshio is made, is the second in a string of seven islands that form the Tobishima Island chain located east of Hiroshima in one of the most beautiful stretches of the Seto Inland Sea. The islands have a rich history as the home of Japan's early Pacific Island sea culture, then as quasi-independent dominions ruled by sea lords until the end of Japan's medieval period (1185-1603), and later as trading centers during the Edo era (1603-1868). The fishing villages and port towns have changed little since then, while the islands' straight-forward cooking remains grounded in the fresh, natural ingredients of fish, vegetables, and rice and the primal seasonings of sea salt and citrus.
Millennium ago, salt was made here by an ancient method of boiling seaweed and seawater together until a complex salt crystalized that combined the flavor and nutrition of the vegetal seaweed and mineral-laden sea salt. Called moshio salts, they were part of the way of life all along the islands and coasts of Japan until about the 7th century when they were replaced by enden salts, which were made by evaporating salt only from seawater using tidal ponds and clay salt pans. These land-based methods of harvesting a simpler sea salt were much more efficient and enabled salt-making on a large scale. As a result, moshio salts were largely forgotten other than for obscure references in ancient myths. In 1984, however, an archaeological dig on the island uncovered an ancient moshio salt-making site at Kenmin no Hama Beach, including pot shards dating from as far back as the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. This provided clues as to how moshio salts were once made, and as soon as governmental regulations on salt-making were eased in 1998, the making of Amabito no Moshio began with the aim to create a modern moshio salt for everyday use.
Making Something Old New Again
Amabito no Moshio is made using the best local ingredients and a thoughtful process combining old and new methods. The seawater comes from Kenmin no Hama Beach next to the salt house. Facing out to a broad open expanse of the Seto Inland Sea, the beach is one of the purest sources of the sea's famously rich brine. The seaweed is tamamo, known colloquially as hon’dawara. The 1984 archaeological dig revealed that early moshio salt makers experimented with a variety of local seaweeds over the centuries. The stratum of soil from the 4th century, for example, has residue from wakame and hijiki in addition to hon’dawara and other types of seaweed. By the 7th century, though, there were only remnants of hon’dawara in the soil, attesting to its better flavor and health benefits. There are legends that hon’dawara was at times the only food eaten by ancient sailors to sustain them during their long voyages to Korea and China. In fact, hon’dawara has distinct health properties, and has been found to be active as an antipyretic, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory.
Although hon’dawara grows all around the Tobishima Islands, to protect the local marine environment the hon’dawara that Amabito no Moshio uses is grown on large seaweed farms across the straits in the Ainan district of Ehime prefecture. Located at the remote southernmost tip of Shikoku Island, Ainan is famous for the quality and richness of its marine life, including its seaweed, which is nourished by the warm, sweet Kuroshio Current coming from the South Pacific. The seed pods of freshly-harvested hon’dawara from there have a deliciously sweet, salty, savory flavor.
In ancient times, the hon’dawara seaweed was burnt and its ashes mixed with seawater, which was then boiled in small clay pots to produce moshio salt. At Amabito no Moshio, the seaweed is dried in the open air, then put in large bags that are placed in specially designed evaporators filled with concentrated seawater. This seaweed-seawater tea is then boiled at a high temperature for four hours. When done, the crystals are removed and centrifuged to eliminate the bittern, and, finally, the salt is heated in a flat pan, with salt makers mixing all the while using large wooden paddles to obtain the correct dry consistency and not roast the salt. The finished salt is sieved by hand to create uniformly articulated salt grains.
The evaporators and centrifuge that concentrate the flavors of the seaweed and seawater are proprietary and have been designed to replicate the effects of the ancient salt-making pots. The careful attention by the salt makers, who work alongside the machinery and craft the final product, ensure the salt’s quality. Together they create a beautifully-flavored moshio salt that meets the standards and all-around needs of today’s kitchen and table.
This first revival of Japan’s moshio salt was initially under the sponsorship of Nobuhide Matsuura, a Buddhist priest devoted to the protection of Japan’s cultural assets. His son Nobuhiro now heads a local association and museum that has exhibits and conducts demonstrations about ancient moshio salt-making. Amabito no Moshio is made today by Kamagari Bussan, a public-private partnership between the town of Kamagari and Howa Shoji Co., Ltd., a modest-sized company engaged in trading food products. Under president Oomi Takahashi and head salt-maker Hirokazu Ishii and his team of five people, the small indie business has become a leader in the use of natural, high quality salt in Japan. Amabito no Moshio can be found on the tables of many restaurants in Hiroshima prefecture and is also used in a number of locally-made food products, including soy sauce and miso, a lemon hot sauce Lemosco, and a refreshing lemon cider, with a touch of Amabito no Moshio being added to bring out the flavor of Hiroshima prefecture’s famously sweet lemons. Kamagari Bussan also offers a range of flavored specialty salts that benefit from their moshio salt foundation. These flavors include yuzu, matcha, herb, pepper, and ume (sour plum.)
The Sea in Crystal Form
Combining the essences of both seawater and seaweed, Amabito no Moshio captures the richness of the sea—its saltiness, minerals, and mouth-satisfying umami. The hon'dawara seaweed makes the salt relatively high in calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, and iodine. It also gives the salt its pleasing, warm biscuit color and makes it rich in savory umami. The salt is dried just enough to preserve the sweet-salty taste of the Seto Inland Sea water, as well as create practical, uniformly medium-sized grains. The delicateness of its overall flavor—a mellow, rounded saltiness—is characteristic of Seto Inland Sea cooking, and Amabito no Moshio won the Ministry of International Trade and Industry’s prize for best local product in 1999. In 2018, Amabito no Moshio was included in “The Wonder 500,” a government-sponsored program that identifies and promotes a select group of “local products that are the pride and joy of Japan.” Voting is done by a panel of experts consisting of chefs, artists, designers, and writers among others based on the criteria of quality, innovation, and craftsmanship.
Story & Photos: Tom Schiller
Amabito no Moshio 海人の藻塩
7407-1 Oura, Kamagari-cho, Kami-kamagari Island, Hiroshima 737-0402
Tel: +81 (0823) 70 7021
The salt works are open during weekdays to visitors. It is best to arrive before 11:00 when the boiling process is completed. A small shop offers Amabito no Moshio salts and food products in which the salt is featured.
The starting point for the bridge connecting the Tobishima Islands, including Kami-kamagari, is Kure City on the Honshu Island mainland. Kure can be reached by switching from the Sanyo Shinkansen bullet train to the local Kure Line at either the cities of Mihara or Hiroshima.
Or you can begin your journey near the end of the string of islands by taking a 24-passenger ferry to Ocho on Osaki-kamijima Island from the town of Takehara, which is an excellent country town from which to base a trip to the area. There are six ferries running daily between Takehara and Ocho, and the 40-minute ride takes you through a breathtakingly beautiful maze of mountainous islands and brilliantly blue waterways.
Public buses and taxis are available to help you get around the islands. Bicycles are another option. The Seto Inland Sea has become a mecca for cyclists in recent years, with the Tobishima Islands being a particularly favorite route because of its gentle paths and the quiet rural calm, charming towns and villages, and spectacular scenery.
Places to Eat
Just up the road from the Amabito no Moshio workshop is restaurant Megumi No Ota. Although housed in a new building, it is a noka restaurant, or farmhouse type eatery, where local residents serve seafood and home-cooked dishes made with produce grown on the restaurant’s organic farm. Also on the island is Katsura Tei, one of the most famous seafood restaurants in the area.
Where to Buy
Amabito no Moshio is widely available in stores across Hiroshima prefecture as well as in many department stores in Tokyo. You can be sure to find it in Tokyo at:
Hiroshima Brand Shop TAU — One of the largest prefecture antenna shops in Tokyo offering a large selection of food, sake, and other products from Hiroshima prefecture.
- Ginza Top One Building, 1-6-10, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061 Japan
Open 10:30—20:00 daily, including Sunday
Tel: +81 (03) 5579 9952
Ma-Suya — A salt specialty store that features over 600 salts from all over Japan as well as other parts of the world. Based in Naha, Okinawa, Ma-Suya has two locations in Tokyo:
- Fujiwara Bldg. 1F, 1-7-3 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0045. Open 11:00-21:00 daily, including Sunday. Tel: +81 (03) 6447 4150
- Solamachi 4F East Yard, 1-1-2 Oshiage, Sumida-ku, Tokyo 131-0045. Open 11:00-21:00 daily, including Sunday. Tel: +81 (03) 5809 7560
The stores have a salt sommelier on hand to help you. The Solamachi shop is located near the Tokyo Skytree broadcasting, restaurant, and observation tower and the Tobacco & Salt Museum, enabling you to combine a visit to Ma-Suya with sightseeing and a tour of the museum’s fascinating exhibit about salt and the history of salt making in Japan.
How to Use
As a natural, healthy salt with a mild flavor and dry grains, Amabito no Moshio can easily serve as an all-around cooking and finishing salt. Like all moshio salts, it is the natural accompaniment for any food that comes from the sea and is good at enhancing the flavors of all foods as its mild taste does not over-power, while its concentrated umami adds savory richness. Amabito no Moshio has the quintessential flavor of classical Japanese cuisine and is a great harmonizing salt and perfect for light, seasonal cooking.
Some specific uses include:
- In clear and creamy soups, sauces, and braised dishes like chicken soup, bakuteh, pot au feu, salad dressings, potato and cucumber salads, hummus and baba ghanoush, bechamel and veloute.
- When blanching, steaming, or roasting vegetables, and with sweet, juicy fruits when making jams and pies or to finish fresh fruit with a scattering of salt to bring out aroma and sweetness. On ice cream and cheesecake and in sparkling fruit drinks and cocktails.
- As a substitute for other condiments. For example, use it instead of mustard when eating pot au feu.