Hamamori no Moshio
Made by a slow, natural, and sustainable process, the jewel-like crystals of Hamamori no Moshio seaweed salt are a masterful blend of bright mineral salt from Sea of Japan waters and mellow savory kajime seaweed, a local konbu rich in umami.
When Japan's regulations on salt making were completely abandoned in 2002, allowing anyone anywhere in the country to make salt by any means, Mr. Nagasawa, a food craftsman in the port town of Hamada in Shimane prefecture, immediately took advantage of this opportunity and began making one of Japan’s first completely natural and genuine seaweed salts, Hamamori no Moshio. Although no one knows exactly how Japan’s ancient people made seaweed salt thousands of years ago, Mr. Nagasawa’s revival of harvesting salt from a combination of local seaweed and seawater by a slow and sustainable method that relies on the sun, wind, and simple wood-fired pans seems like a reasonable approximation. Any differences may lie in the high quality of the ingredients that Mr. Nagasawa uses, the pain-staking process by which he fuses the flavors and other goodness of the seaweed and seawater together into a beautifully colored, textured, and flavorful salt, and the thoughtful ways in which he limits the impact of his craft on the environment (for example, recycled wood only is used.)
One of the oldest settled regions in Japan, Shimane prefecture is essentially a ribbon of dramatically beautiful mountainous coastline facing the Sea of Japan. The region once was Japan's gateway to Asia, and thus to the known world, and is considered the place of origin of many of the country's native Shinto gods. While the entire panoply of Shinto gods are still believed to descend annually on the Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine (the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan) in the north of the prefecture, the rest of Shimane today is a quiet, sparsely populated hinterland. The prefecture is blessed with some of the most unspoiled natural resources in the country, a slow way of life, and a thriving food culture that is reviving and re-inventing the best of the country's native sea and mountain cuisines, often creatively blending them with foreign influences, as has been done for centuries.
The port town of Hamada, where Hamamori no Moshio is made, is located at the southern end of the prefecture. Hamada has the deepest harbor in the region, and Mr. Nagasawa’s salt workshop is located on Setogashima, a small island in the harbor. This location enhances his access to the pristine, mineral-rich seawater that is characteristic of the Sea of Japan.
The seaweed used to make Hamamori no Moshio is tsuruarame (Ecklonia cava), more commonly known as kajime. Characterized by large zigzag-shaped leaves growing on a long stalk, kajime is an edible kelp in the konbu family, rich in iodine, calcium, and iron, and loaded with savory umami. While over 90% of Japan's konbu seaweed comes from the Sea of Okhotsk around the island of Hokkaido in the north, kajime is a variety that grows along the shores of central Japan. In particular, it thrives in the rugged waters of the Sea of Japan as it favors relatively deep coastal waters and rocky places hard hit by waves. Kajime is a delicious-tasting seaweed that can be eaten on its own, either fresh or dried, or mixed into dishes. Kajime also has anti-bacterial qualities, and is used in a variety of Japanese medicines. Not surprisingly, Hamamori no Moshio is sometimes used as a natural bath salt.
The process of making Hamamori no Moshio is simple and straightforward albeit laborious as everything is done by hand, very slowly, in a completely natural way. Four men, who are local fishermen and lifeguards, help Mr. Nagasawa make each batch of moshio salt. First, fresh kajime seaweed is mixed with seawater, and then this brew is heated in shallow pans very gently to retain as much of the minerals, flavorful umami, and nutritious qualities of the seawater and kajime as possible. As the mixture in each pan concentrates, it is moved to a master pan and further concentrated until there is one final mass of seaweed and salt crystals. This is laid out on mats and dried naturally by the sun and wind until a dazzling assortment of salt crystals—flake, fleur de sel, cube, pyramid, large coarse, and smaller grain—can be shaken out of the seaweed and packaged. The entire process of making Hamamori no Moshio takes 10 days.
Flavor-Rich Sea Gems
Hamamori no Moshio is a rich and surprisingly complex salt. It has a lovely light purple tint that varies slightly depending on the season when it is made. The enchanting color combined with the beautiful jewel-like quality of the crystals projects richness and elegance. Its taste begins with a rounded saltiness that ascends to a bright minerally burst of flavor. It is both crunchy and meltingly smooth. A large part of what makes Hamamori no Moshio special in terms of beauty and flavor are its large crystals, which are unusual for a moshio salt. Hamamori no Moshio is an outstanding taste of place made from the best of what the seawater of Shimane prefecture has to offer in the best possible way.
How to Enjoy
Hamamori no Moshio’s beauty, charm, and flavor make it an exceptional finishing salt. Like all large crystal, fleur de sel, flake-type sea salts, it is great on salads, fresh tomatoes, steaks, and grilled foods. It is particularly appetizing on foods with a more subdued flavor like heirloom tomatoes, delicate foods like tofu, and luxurious items including oysters, grilled scallops, and foie gras, as Hamamori no Moshio enriches their flavor and highlights their specialness without overpowering them. Desserts are other excellent companions. One or a few crystals of Hamamori no Moshio can make these foods romantic as well as delicious. Put Hamamori no Moshio in a grinder and you have a unique table salt.
Hamamori no Moshio is also made as a powder salt, with the very fine grains produced naturally by rapidly boiling the seaweed and seawater mixture. The taste of the powder salt is essentially the same as the mixed crystal version, but its functionality is different. The powder Hamamori no Moshio is great for cooking. Vegetables particularly benefit from the use of a moshio salt, and Hamamori no Moshio powder salt should be used when blanching, roasting, or braising vegetables. It is also a wonderful salt for grilling fish and other seafood. Kajime seaweed is often used to make dashi stock and enrich ramen soup in Japan, and Hamamori no Moshio powder salt is a good way to add flavor and give an umami boost to any stock, broth, soup, or stew. Hamamori no Moshio powder salt is also useful when canning and pickling because of the anti-bacterial qualities of kajime seaweed.
Hamamori Sea Salts
Mr. Nagasawa also makes two types of pure white sea salt harvested from the local seawater in a similar manner as the moshio salt, but without the kajime seaweed. Both are delicious salts that capture the bright, minerally taste of the Sea of Japan. The mixed coarse crystal salt is great when a burst of flavor and crunch is desired, while the powder version is a premium all-around cooking salt. The powder sea salt is a particularly good baking salt because it disperses quickly and thoroughly.
Story & Photos: Tom Schiller
Hamamori no Moshio 浜守の藻塩
Hamada no Umide Seikatsuru-kai
138-6 Setogashima-cho, Hamada City
Shimane Prefecture 697-0051
Tel: +81 (0855) 28 7212
Salt making demonstrations are available for groups of 12 people or more. There is a small fee of ¥1,000 per person for the 90-minute experience, which includes a packet of salt to take home. Call at least the day before to make a reservation. If you simply show up at the salt workshop, the salt farmers typically will show you around if salt is being made.
Both ANA and JAL serve Hamada City with direct flights from Japan's major cities. Or you can get there by train or car in about 2 hours from either the cities of Hiroshima or Matsue, which is the largest city in Shimane prefecture.
Hamada is a modest-sized country town, mainly serving its deep-water port. It was the feudal castle seat of this area of western Japan from the Heian (794-1192) through Edo periods (1603-1868), when the area was known as Iwami province. The castle is now in ruins, and there is little left of the old town. Hamada's main attractions are the beautiful white sand beaches, hidden coves, and towns and villages along its nearby coast.
Shimane prefecture is one of the oldest regions in Japan, and along with the islands of the Seto Inland Sea and the area around the Nara basin was one of the three ancient bases of Japanese civilization and culture. The prefecture's most famous sight is the Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine, which together with the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie prefecture and Oyamazumi Shrine on Omishima Island in Ehime prefecture form the trinity of most important Shinto shrines in the country. There are other Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples located throughout the prefecture that are unique in their grand yet still rustic design and sensibility. Travel in Shimane prefecture is as much about experiencing and enjoying its beautiful landscapes and ways of life as it is about sightseeing. In addition to an abundance of farms and good food from sea and land, there are hot spring spas, nighttime exhibitions of Shinto kagura dancing, hiking, cycling, and swimming, and the gentle slow way of life of Shimane's towns and villages.
Just 45 minutes from Hamada by car or JR San'in train line is Yunotsu Onsen, which is part of the Iwami Ginzan UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yunotsu Onsen has a 1,300-year history as a spa town and also one of Japan's busiest ports during the 16th and 17th centuries. Today it is a small, quiet fishing village and good, old-fashioned hot springs resort that is almost hidden among the area's lush hillocks and rocky coves.
From Yunotsu Onsen it is another 45 minutes by train and bus or car to the mountain village of Omori, which is the other half of the Iwami Ginzan UNESCO World Heritage Site. Omori is one of the best preserved and most beautiful mountain villages in Japan, thanks in large part to Daikichi and Tomi Matsuba. Two of Japan's leading sustainability pioneers, they have led the revitalization of the 400-person village, as well as the creation of their very successful Gungendo brand of clothes, household items, and food products, by using traditional skills, resources, and values to help create richer, more meaningful, and sustainable ways of modern living.
Where to Buy
Hamamori no Moshio is widely available in stores across Shimane prefecture.
You can also find it in Tokyo at:
Shimanekan — Shimane prefecture's "antenna shop" in Toyo is located across from Mitsukoshi's main department store in Nihonbashi. It offers a wide variety of local foodstuffs and crafts, while its restaurant "Mondo" serves regional cuisine and sake.
Fukushima Building 1F, 1−5−3 Nihonbashimuromachi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 103-0022
Open 10:30—19:00 daily, including Sunday.
Tel: +81 (03) 5201-3310