It seems “green salt,” salt made from various species of salicornia, is having a moment. I’ve been making it for a decade, and I learned the general idea from the Tlingit of Alaska, who have been using dried sea beans, as they are most commonly known in the US, for millennia.
Recently, I’ve seen publications like the New York Times write about green salt, and I actually saw some for sale in Monterrey, Mexico, where it was labeled sal verde, which is just “green salt” in Spanish. The main seller of this stuff appears to be a company in Ensenada, Mexico. Nice to see a business in Baja taking off.
Apparently green salt is lower in sodium than regular salt, with added nutrients and fiber. Yeah, cool, cool. I just like the stuff because a) it’s pretty, and b) I can make it easily. And so can you.
Making green salt at home is super simple — if you live near the ocean, or where its only ingredient, salicornia, lives. There are many species of this plant, and most live along the ocean. But not all. It will live in the alkali areas of the Great Basin, Manitoba and elsewhere.
I wrote a tutorial on how to find, harvest and prepare sea beans here.
I’ve been eating salicornia, which I grew up calling saltwort — samphire, glasswort, pickleweed, sea beans, sea asparagus, and chicken feet are just some of this plant’s other names — since I was a toddler. They are one of my all-time favorite vegetables: Briny and crunchy, they are by far the best thing to add punch to a tuna or seafood salad, and they make great pickles, too. (There’s a recipe for pickled sea beans in my first book.)
But it wasn’t until 2013 when I thought about drying them.
I was up in Kake, Alaska with my friend Tyson Fick, and we went to the home of a Tlingit woman named Kim Moler; Kim showed us a variety of traditional ways to preserve native foods. One of the things she showed us was a little jar of dried sticks.
Only they weren’t sticks. They were dried sea beans. Kim said she used these dehydrated sea beans as a seasoning all winter. I tasted some. Very crunchy (salicornia has a lot of silica in it), briny and fun to eat. Interesting… It immediately occurred to me that you might be able to make a green salt from them, if you could grind the dried sea beans into a powder.
I couldn’t wait to give it a go once I returned home. I started with about 12 ounces of fresh sea beans.
Kim’s dried sea beans had turned olive drab, so I decided to blanch mine by boiling them in salty water for 2 minutes, then shocking them in an ice water bath. This set the color pretty well.
Then I put them in my dehydrator set to 105°F overnight. I wanted them completely dried out and crunchy. When they came out they looked like this:
This is basically what Kim’s looked like, albeit a little greener. Not sure if blanching did any good, but I’d like to think it did. From there, I had to figure out how to grind them. I started by breaking the sea beans into little pieces by hand and then stuffing them into a standard spice grinder. That worked well, and by using a fine-mesh strainer I started to get some pretty green powder.
But I noticed there was a hard core that was not grinding very well. This I took care of the old-fashioned way: With a big ole’ mortar and pestle.
It took a good 4 to 5 minutes to grind everything to a fine powder, but it worked. Green salt. Voila!
Nowadays I have a spiffy Vitamix blender with a dry bowl attachment that does the trick in about 2 minutes. But the regular spice grinder + mortar and pestle works really well if your blender isn’t fantabulous.
The result is a unique, salty, vegetal powder that works beautifully sprinkled on white fish. I poached some rockfish in butter, then sprinkled the green salt on top. Super pretty!
Green salt will keep at room temperature, in a dark place, for years. It will brown over time, though, so if you don’t plan on using it a lot, keep some in the freezer.
The only drawback: A very low yield. Just about 12 ounces of fresh sea beans ground down into less than 1/4 cup of sea bean salt. But it was totally worth the effort, and salicornia often grows in swaths larger than football fields, so you can make more — just check your local regulations to make sure it’s legal to pick in your area.
How to Make Green Salt
- 12 ounces sea beans (salicornia species)
- Wash your sea beans well to remove any sand they might have on them.
- OPTIONAL STEP: Boil your sea beans in salty water for 1 to 2 minutes, then shock them in a bowl of ice water. This is only for color. The blanching step keeps the salt greener.
- Dehydrate between 90°F and 105°F until hard and brittle, about 8 to 12 hours.
- Break up the dried sea beans with your fingers, then grind in a spice grinder or a strong blender with a dry blade attachment. Sift the powder to remove any larger bits, and regrind those either in the grinder, or with a mortar and pestle.
- Store in a closed container in the dark indefinitely. It will brown slowly over time, so if you don't use it often, keep it in the freezer.
Kim Gower says
Thank you for this article. I made some green salt last week and this morning I was looking for more guidance and was glad to find your articles and recipes! Does it matter what time of the year you harvest Salicornia if you are going to dehydrate it for green salt? It is September now and I read that the window closes about now for harvest purposes. And also, I didn’t dehydate the base of the plant and other lower stems that appeared woody. Can I assume one would not want to dry that part? Thanks for your guidance. Really happy to be using this green salt. Wish I had read about green salt a decades ago; have always enjoyed nibbling on this plant.
Hank Shaw says
Kim: That’s correct, no need to dry the woody parts. I generally harvest salicornia in spring and early summer. The color changes to reddish now, and then you won’t be making “green” salt. Salicornia will also get increasingly tough as the year goes on, with a strand of what seems like silica running through each stem.
If you have to boil them in salt water won’t it retain ordinary salt, which would defeat the purpose of using it for lower sodium consumption?
Hank Shaw says
Jane: You can boil them in fresh water if that’s your goal. I make green salt not for lower sodium consumption, but for flavor reasons.
Cathy | She Paused 4 Thought says
What a great idea. I am brushing off the dust of my dehydrator and making this today.
I found fresh sea beans from Oregon at https://www.wholeearthharvest.com
They were pretty cheap and they have free shipping. I’m going to try this out when they get here!
Brilliant! I’ve grumbled about the strong saltiness of sea asparagus but never considered turning it into salt. Thanks for the intriguing tip.
Peter NeSmith says
What a great idea! The next time I hit the Cedar Key (Big Ben Florida) I will collect some Salicornia bigelovii(https://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Results.aspx)
It will go well with speckled sea trout, redfish, oysters and blue crab!
Hank Shaw says
Christine: It’s not quite as salty as actual salt, but it is salty enough to use as a finishing salt.
Brook: Great idea! I’d not yet thought about lacto-fermenting sea beans. Will give that a go, too.
Lou: I do, mostly in spring, in Northern California.
Please teach a “seashore/shallow water” collectibles course. 🙂
Brook - Learn To Preserve says
As you know, I’m a fan of preserving (understatement!).
Making salts from dried fruits, veggies, herbs and even cured meats is something I love to do, but I never thought to use the abundant sea vegetables in our area to make salt.
This is fantastic, Hank.
I am armed with my shellfish license and was already planning to collect some sea beans this weekend, intending to ferment them. Now I think I’m going to need to free up bit (or a lot) more space in my “Salts” cupboard.
Thanks for continuing to inspire.
Is it as salty as salt or could you use it as a flavouring as well as seasoning agent?
diary of a tomato says
Brilliant, as usual! We’ve some agretti growing in the garden I’ll be trying this out with!
E in Philly says
Sounds absolutely … right. Been wanting to try samphire for a while, but it’s not exactly plentiful at our farmer’s markets here in Philadelphia.
Any chance you might start making this on a small commercial scale and let us poor easterners have a tase of the wild Northwest?
What a cool idea!
Sea beans, or samphire, as we call it, grows all around the British coast. It is delicious steamed for a minute or two and served with fish, it has a taste and texture all of its own which I love. I’m not sure I’d bother doing anything else with it…..
Tom Kelly says
Love the sea bean salt. It is just this kind of –out of the box–thinking which makes cooking and eating such an adventure. Thanks
Laura @ All Spice and Yum says
So pretty! I don’t know where to get sea beans, but this makes me wonder what other vegetables would make awesome seasonings! Thanks for sharing!
Very pretty! It would be aesthetically pleasing to season my food with such lovely salt!