Sea salt is becoming increasingly popular in food processing. This is not surprising: firstly, it is much more eco-friendly than traditional kitchen salt, and secondly, the natural grain variation paves the way for innovation. To meet the growing global demand for high-quality sea salt, ZOUTMAN is expanding its production facility in Roeselare. In addition to an overhaul of the processing installations, the investment includes an optical cleaning plant and sixteen storage silos. For the design and construction of the latter, ZOUTMAN turned to Spiromatic, its longstanding partner for silo construction at its own plants and on a project basis for customers.
Traditional kitchen salt (vacuum salt) is extracted from seams of underground salt. Water is pumped into the salt seam, and the salt solution formed in this way is brought to the surface, after which a heating process causes the fine grains of salt to crystallise. ZOUTMAN’s Sales Director Bert Lamote: “This is an energy-intensive process in itself. However, the brine also undergoes further chemical purification to remove undesirable minerals and obtain an extremely white salt. This is because vacuum salt is mainly used in the chemical industry. All of this, in combination with the subsidence caused by salt extraction and the associated hollowing out of subterranean layers, means that kitchen salt is not an environmentally friendly product. Sea salt’s ecological footprint is much smaller, being extracted by a natural process through the evaporation of pure seawater in salt basins. The combined action of sun and wind forms a salt crust, which is mechanically harvested. Moreover, sea salt is extracted from an almost inexhaustible and renewable source. The only processing to turn it into kitchen salt consists of rinsing, drying and sieving – steps that require far less energy than the extraction and processing of vacuum salt.”
Even more advantages
With sustainability increasingly being a key focus for both food producers and consumers, the use of sea salt is becoming more and more common in foods. But there is another reason why the industry likes this ingredient. Bert Lamote: “Sea salt is by nature available in different grain sizes. These allow the food industry to develop innovative products, such as snacks, bread, dairy products, spice mixes and so on. Also, the crystalline structure of sea salt is more irregular, giving the grains a rougher surface. This results in a different and more intense flavour sensation, so that less salt is needed. Yet another advantage is that sea salt, unlike vacuum salt, still contains a number of minerals and trace elements, which gives a subtler, milder, softer and more nuanced flavour. Finally, sea salt is available without any additives, which makes it suitable for organic food, for example. In short, sea salt has numerous qualities that the food industry can harness in terms of both marketing and product development.”
Even higher quality
More and more food producers are recognising the benefits of sea salt and switching to this ingredient. “It’s a logical and easy step”, says Bert Lamote. “Because in terms of product and usability, vacuum salt is in every respect replaceable with high-quality sea salt.” In response to the growing demand from the food industry, ZOUTMAN recently decided to expand its production site in Roeselare (which mainly focuses on food and water softener salt). The company has invested in a brand-new production line. To achieve even higher quality, an extra step has been included in the manufacturing process: optical cleaning. “Sea salt contains a slightly higher level of natural impurities (such as sand grains or shell fragments) than vacuum salt, for the simple reason that it is extracted from seawater”, says Bert Lamote. “For some applications, this is a slightly less positive characteristic, but modern techniques allow us to obtain a very high degree of purity. This is why we are now working with optical cleaning machines, which ‘scans’ the sea salt and removes impurities. The result is that we can offer a salt whose purity is equivalent to vacuum salt, with all the benefits of sea salt.”
More flexible and rapid deliveries
ZOUTMAN also plans to ensure even more flexible and faster delivery of different grain sizes. It has therefore invested in sixteen SPIROMATIC silos. Bert Lamote: “Whenever we process a batch of sea salt, we obtain varying quantities of different grain sizes. Previously, these were temporarily stored and then packaged. But this was not the most efficient way of working, as the quantities were often insufficient to utilise the full capacity of our packaging machines. Also, our storage options were limited, which meant that we were not always able to respond quickly to the demand for a particular grain size. Thanks to the silos, both problems are in the past. These innovations enable us to produce more efficiently, keep our prices competitive, offer even higher quality and deliver more quickly and flexibly. A win-win situation for both us and our customers!”