Fleur de sels are crystallized salts obtained as a soft, thick crust on the bottom of sea water when it evaporates. It has been harvested since ancient days, though it was originally primarily used as an antiseptic and topical salve. Today it is used mainly as a garnish and flavor additive to food and also as an undercoat for rubber and plastic parts that cannot be seen. As a result of its unique physical and chemical properties, this type of salt has many practical applications.
Fleur de sels are formed naturally in nature. They occur in bays, in rocks, and at the sea bottom, where they decompose. When seawater evaporates from the ocean, fleur de sel are left behind, which often contains a variety of minerals that were part of the original organism that brought it to the sea floor. During the years when the area was filled with caves and extensive mining took place, the seawater became rich with sulfur and other substances that contributed to the richness of this natural sea salt.
The salts were so precious that the French government began a programme to harvest them in 1846. The harvesting and the process of manufacturing was a major effort by the French government. Some of the salts were produced in the region of France. At first, the fleur de sel were used in the lowlands surrounding the coasts, but later the salt was distributed over the entire marshes. Today the salts are available throughout most of the planet.
Most of the salt comes from the coastal areas in France. Some of the salts are harvested in the open sea, while some is harvested in inland lakes and rivers. Most of the salts evaporates from the water surface rather than sinking to the bottom of the marshes. The dried-up fleur de sel will float on top of the open water surface. The floating fleur de sel is collected by nets and brought to the surface. It is then dried out and stored for future use or sold as an industrial mineral ingredient.
Most of the fleur de sel that is harvested by French authorities is used for land reclamation. Land reclamation involves clearing an area that is not used for agricultural purposes and converting it into a marsh. The new marsh is usually found not on the banks of the river, but along the shores. Marsh harvesting is similar to crop harvesting in that nutrients from the sea salt can be extracted for fertilizer. Marsh harvesting can also include fish and animal waste.
Marsh harvesting has its disadvantages. Marsh plants do not flower and produce their fruit in a year so they do not produce as much salt as other types of plants. Marsh plants are affected by frost, making it difficult to extract their nutrient source. Another problem with this type of fleur de sel harvesting is that there is no effective control over the quality of the soil in the area of the marsh.
Fleur de sels are mainly harvested in two places in France: near Toursraine and in the southern part of France known as “la France”. “La France” is the most southern part of the country and is located in regions of la Coste de France (French Riviera). Many of the salt marshes in France have their origin in the “la France” region. Fleur de sels harvested in “la France” are generally harvested less frequently because their productivity is lower compared to the production in Toursraine.
Fleur de sels are primarily harvested from lowland areas, often abandoned fields. These abandoned fields provide an ideal habitat for micro-organisms and other forms of bacteria. As the microorganisms mature, they release toxins which in turn pollute the water and soil in these areas. The pollutants usually pose serious threats to both aquatic and terrestrial life, making fleur de sel an important ingredient in both the construction of buildings and the preservation of natural resources.