Seaweed is shaping up to be one of the big food stories this year, but so too is the continuing emphasis on health and the increasing need to eat local.
In a sense, then, Achill Island Sea Salt ticks all the boxes with the launch of its latest product. It contains seaweed, is healthier than processed salt and it uses natural, local resources.
The family-run business teamed upwith local seaweed specialists to add Achill Island Sea Salt with Atlantic wakame to its hand-harvested range.
The wakame, a seaweed that grows close to the shore, is hand-harvested by Connemara Organic Seaweed in Rossaveal, Galway.
So far, reaction to the new product has been very positive, marketing manager Maedh O’Malley tells Feelgood. She says wakame has a mild taste and when mixed with Achill Island Sea Salt produces a great savoury flavour.
However, more than the flavour, the decision to include seaweed with its myriad health benefits was driven by a new demand from consumers.
“We decided to launch this product as we felt more and more people were becoming interested in seaweed.
"We see our customers want to reduce their salt intake too, so combining the sea salt and seaweed allows you to cut down on your salt usage but still get that salty kick in your food,” she says.
The marketing manager has also seen a change in Irish consumer tastes.
“Salt is not only for flavour-enhancing,it can also improve the texture of food and bring the flavours of a meal together and I think our customers realise that,” she says.
There has been something of a boom in sea salt and many chefs and restaurants opt for the texture and flavour it gives to food. From a health perspective it contains the same amount of sodium as table salt but often consumers tend to use less.
There are other benefits to sea salt too, says Marjorie O’ Malley, who founded Achill Island Sea Salt with her husband Kieran in 2013.
Their products do not contain any caking agents, chemicals or preservatives and they are processed in a way that retains the 60 or more trace minerals that come from seawater.
“Our aim was to create a great-tasting, pure and natural Irish sea salt using sustainable production methods,” she says.
The couple began to explore the possibility of opening a business after watching a documentary about salt production in Wales. They began to research the history of Achill and found that salt production had taken place on the island until the 1800s.
After a lot of trial and error, and burnt kitchen pots, the O’ Malleys perfected the process and, in 2016, moved into a custom-modified facility on the island.
They also opened a visitor centre which outlines the history of salt production on the island and explains their own production method. Sustainability is key and they are trialling ways of using the by-products of production which are brine and distilled water.
The business employs three family members, two local part-time staff and works to promote tourism, good food and increase awareness of the role of salt in our diets.
Though salt is essential in the human diet, when eaten in excess it can lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk of stroke and heart disease.
Our body needs about 4g of salt each day (or a teaspoon), according to the Irish Heart Foundation, though many Irish people consume nearly twice that.
Maedh O’ Malley has seen the issues first-hand. She says customers with health issues, such as high blood pressure, are often concerned about their salt intake.
“Everything in moderation though!”