new business on Hatteras Island is adding a little extra flavor to the
community and is making waves with residents and visitors who have an
appreciation for locally harvested and completely unique fare.
company is Hatteras Saltworks, and this Buxton-based business is
creating authentic sea salt from the island's ocean waters through a
lengthy but fascinating and environmentally-friendly process.
minds behind the business are Shaena and Bryan McMahon – two longtime
locals who had dabbled in homemade salt-making for years before
embarking on this new venture.
with a vacation to the Caribbean where Bryan created his own local salt
with saltwater, a toaster tray, and a week of sunshine on the deck, the
couple started making “local” salts with their son, Declan, during a
number of vacations to Nicaragua, Mexico, and other coastal
destinations around the globe.
were somewhat surprised to find that the salts from different regions
and bodies of water – like the Pacific and the Caribbean – had a
different consistency and flavor. And after moving back to Hatteras
Island after a couple years of living in Maui and then New Jersey, they
realized that the island's saltwater could be ideal for homegrown, sea
“We always like to make salt when we travel,” says Bryan, “and when we moved back here, we decided to ‘test the waters.’”
No. 1 factor for salt is clean water, and the waters here are perfect,”
adds Shaena. “Compared to the other salts we’ve made, it has such a
is another reason the salt here is so good,” says Bryan. “Two major
currents – the Labrador and the Gulf Stream – collide here, so the
waters are alive with good nutrients and minerals.”
said the salty waters off the coast of Hatteras Island are unlike any
other waters on earth, which makes the local Hatteras salt completely
distinctive, nicely bold, and surprisingly healthy.
don’t add anything to it,” explains Bryan. “A lot of companies use
iodine and caking agents, but the water here is pure with a high
salinity, so we don’t add anything extra.”
end result is fat flakes that hold a wealth of flavor in each little
bite, and which upon first taste, is sharp, zesty, and surprisingly
different than other everyday or even specialty salts.
best of all, because the salt is slowly evaporated, the final salt is
high quality and unrefined, and the McMahons say it retains up to 92
trace minerals, which they note are a crucial contributor to our
immune, digestive, and circulatory systems.
So how does the process of extracting pure salt from the neighboring ocean work? It’s a lot more complex than you’d think.
McMahons did a ton of trial-and-error testing before finding the
perfect eco-friendly method for salt production, which didn’t utilize
fossil fuels, but which still reached the temperatures required during
the evaporation process to be approved by the North Carolina Department
end result is an ingenious collection of recycled materials and
glass-lined wooden box containers -- or “ovens” -- that use solar
energy to speed along the evaporation, as well as enable the “kill
worked with a scientist from N.C. State,” says Bryan. “You need to
bring [salt] up to 145 degrees for 15 minutes to kill off organisms.
Our ovens reach up to 180 degrees… and all we need is sun.”
McMahons’ operation takes place on a private lot behind Fox Watersports
in Buxton, and at first glance, the site looks like a line of solar
panels that are bordered by small huts on pilings and laid-down
a confusing set-up to the naked eye to be sure, but as the McMahons
explain the operation, the individual elements start to make more sense
as the process is outlined.
McMahons collect the saltwater from the breaking waves in huge
rectangular tanks that are tricky to transfer to and from the beach.
From there, the saltwater goes through several filters that remove any
sand or other sediments and is then transferred to the solar-designed
ovens which each hold individual tubs.
in the tubs, it’s a waiting game of a month or so for the water to
heat, evaporate, and leave nothing but pure salt behind. The McMahons
then do one final “flash” to remove any excess moisture, break it down
via a mortar and pestle or just their hands, depending on the
batch, and then package it so that it’s ready to use and enjoy.
an involved process, to be sure, but one of the most amazing elements
of the project is that virtually all of the materials and containers in
the intricate design are completely recycled.
boxes or “ovens” that dry the salt are made out of wood that Bryan
found on the beach and are covered with repurposed glass windows. The
packing room used to be a storage area, and the carpet that lines the
area around the ovens was acquired as a secondhand item as well.
while the materials used for production may be simple on the surface,
finding the precise formulas, ratios, and procedures to achieve the
final product was a lengthy endeavor.
took months for the McMahons to go from planning stages to finished
product – with the ovens first put into operation in November 2015 –
but they’ve been amazed by all the community help and support they’ve
received to get their project off the ground.
“So many people have helped us with this,” says Shaena. “The community has been so embracing and supportive.”
once Hatteras Saltworks was approved by the N.C. Department of
Agriculture, the first wave of salt became available to the public via
the Avon Farmer’s Market and two local restaurants and was subsequently
received with rave reviews.
gotten a lot of positive responses,” says Shaena. “People bought it at
the farmer’s market, and then came back for more. It’s a great gift to
take home, and you can use it for so many things.”
Indeed, Hatteras Salt can actually be used a number of ways, outside the culinary realm.
it’s tempting to use all the fat salt flakes to liven up a grilled
fish, a pile of fresh veggies, a soup or pasta dish, or everything in
between, but the salt has unexpected skincare and health benefits as
of my favorite ways to use it is in a scrub,” says Shaena. “There’s a
coconut-eucalyptus-sea salt recipe that I love, and we put it on our
website.” (The three ingredient recipe, which has been sampled at
recent farmer’s markets, can be found here - https://seasaltnc.wordpress.com/2016/06/23/hello/.)
while the salt is currently available in relatively limited supply, the
demand for this versatile homegrown product is growing fast. Hatteras
Saltworks has already received inquiries from health companies around
the world, and they are planning to make their salt available in
additional shops and/or restaurants all along the island.
the meantime, if you want to try the surprisingly vibrant and robust
salt, you can pick it up at the weekly Avon farmer’s markets on Tuesday
mornings on the Hatteras Realty grounds, or can swing by Conner's
Supermarket in Buxton, Pangea Tavern in Avon, or The Inn on Pamlico
Sound in Buxton to pick up a batch.