Ben Jacobsen is standing over one of the rectangular oyster pans that fill each day with about 8,000 gallons of seawater from nearby Netarts Bay, a protected estuary along Oregon’s northern coast. He thrusts an index finger toward a tiny, translucent speck beneath the surface of the brackish, near- gelatinous water. The speck joins another, then another, until a dime-size cluster forms. As the crystal drifts to the bottom of the pan, Jacobsen grins. “Beautiful,” he says.
The flakes are different from the salt you might sprinkle on fries at a diner: larger, brighter, crunchier, and, if the discerning taste buds of North American chefs are to be believed, more flavorful. Jacobsen Salt Co.’s “pure flake finishing salt” has made him popular with Michelin-starred restaurants, taco trucks, Williams-Sonoma stores, small grocers, and Antoni Porowski of Queer Eye. “The way it dissolves is different. There’s this brininess as opposed to this mouth- deadening salt flavor,” says Megan Sanchez, co-owner and chef at Güero, a restaurant in Portland, Ore., known for its tortas.
Jacobsen, who’s 43, and others who share his passion have helped to change how Americans think about salt— the marriage of sodium and chlorine, and sometimes potassium and iodine. The global market for gourmet salt totaled $1.1 billion in 2016; it’s expected to grow to $1.5 billion in the next decade. Jacobsen’s roster so