From Shikoku Island’s most prominent peak of Mt. Ishizuchi flows the clear Niyodo River to the Pacific Ocean. Near the mouth of the river is a unique salt making company established in March 2021. The owner is Takuma Komatsu, a young artisanal salt maker who uses the guild name Ginzo Tanoya. He trained with Enjiro Tanoya, who is celebrated throughout Japan for producing made-to-order, completely sun-dried salt. After going independent, Ginzo spent ample time searching for the ideal location to set up business, and at long last, began producing salt with seawater drawn from underground — a practice that he believes may be a world’s first.
The production of completely sun-dried salt in Kochi Prefecture started some 20 or 30 years ago. The greatest feature is the mineral content, which is considerably higher in completely sun-dried salt than in artificially heated or refined salt. What’s more, the underground seawater in this area blends with groundwater from the Niyodo River. The bounties of the mountain contribute to an even higher mineral content, and this helps to create a more delicate flavor.
“Each mineral has a distinct taste. Potassium is close to sour, magnesium is bitter, and when found in salt, calcium is relatively sweet. The type and amount of minerals you choose to retain in the salt crystals—that balance will determine the flavor. From fine powder to large cubic blocks, the shape and size of the salt crystals will affect the flavor too.”
The saltworks, comprising a brand new greenhouse, is lined with wooden vats waiting to be put to use. Each vat will produce a batch of bespoke salt with its own taste, texture, and mouthfeel. Ginzo says he can draw out the desired taste at will. The techniques he uses to achieve this is like a magic trick performed slowly over a long period of time.
“I rely on my senses alone, but the process itself involves only three steps. First, mix the seawater in the vat with a spatula every hour or two, taking account of the weather, the season, and the wind speed on any given day. Second, add more seawater. And third, open or close the windows to control the indoor temperature and humidity, and the inflow and movement of air. The time to completion ranges from a minimum of two months to as long as six months. Only by taking the time to nurture the salt can I make a unique batch for each customer.”
Ginzo and his wife tend to the salt 24/7. Ginzo says, “We think of the salt as a living being. Should anyone enter the saltworks uninvited, we would know for sure because the salt would tell us.” The salt is like the couple’s children.
I tasted a batch in trial production, and a soft, deep, delicate flavor spread throughout my mouth. It was a crystalization of the beauties of the ocean, the mountain, the river, and the couple’s love.