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Salt of the islands


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POSTED: Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A locally produced sea salt is making small waves, though quietly, among Hawaii's foodie circles.

It's Kona Sea Salt, a gourmet salt produced from the ocean depths off of the Kona coast, and crystallized using solar heat and winds.

Mera Pharmaceuticals Inc., a marine biotechnology company in Kailua-Kona that focuses mostly on nutraceuticals made from microalgae, began producing the salt about a year ago.

The salt can be found on the shelves of Umeke Market and Deli at Kahala, Executive Chef at Ward Warehouse, and 21 GNC stores throughout Hawaii.

It is lower in sodium and richer in potassium and other trace minerals than other salts, according to Kona Sea Salt marketing brochures.

Several chefs, including James Babian, the executive chef at Four Seasons Resort at Hualalai and Richard Gras, chef de cuisine at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island in Florida, are said to be fans of the salt.

Allina Chen, Kona Sea Salt's sales manager, says the salt is growing in popularity not only among chefs, but health enthusiasts.

Because the salt is dried naturally, the salt comes out in pure-white, medium-grained crystals offering a combination of textures. The salt is not iodized, and the flavor is more concentrated, say converts.

Michelle Yamaguchi, owner of Umeke market, which has been carrying the salt for about a year, said it seems to have a loyal following.

“;People consider it a high-quality product because you get the minerals in there,”; she said.

Executive Chef at Ward Warehouse also began carrying Kona Sea Salt due to requests from customers.

To meet the growing demand, Mera is working on expanding its production facilities, according to CEO Gregory Kowal.

Mera Pharmaceutical's revenue jumped 44.4 percent in its fiscal first quarter, narrowing its loss to $24.146. Mera rents out its facilities, in addition to intellectual property, in exchange for technical-service fees.

Kona sea salt production is still a small part of Mera's operations. The salt retails for $10.95 for a 6-ounce bag, or $12.95 for a 2.25-ounce bottled grinder.