Santiago, also known as Long Valley’s "Salt Girl," is the creative force behind Saltopia, whose naturally-flavored salts can add allure to even the most mundane ingredients.
“I’m not really a very good cook," Santiago, says, "but with the right seasonings I can make almost anything delicious.”
PHOTOS: Top, several Saltopia salts arrayed on spoons. Middle, the sample set. Bottom, Vampire’s Tease, a cabernet-and-cherry-infused salt. Photos by Kimarie Santiago.
When the busy mother of two young children started the business last January, “I had no idea that people would like salt as much as I do.”
Perhaps take that statement with a grain of salt.
In fact, tinkering with salts of various kinds has been Santiago’s hobby for the last decade. Her friends always enjoyed her creations and she often gave away jars of her distinctive salts as gifts. Her friends urged her to take the next step and open a business.
Her 17 hand-made salts, available in 3.4 oz jars selling for $12 each (except Krossed Keys, $20), come in a rainbow of colors and flavors.
What she calls her “mad scientist project” begins by purchasing various sea salts from around the world. Santiago has become somewhat of an expert on the crystal structure of salt, which varies with the environment in which it was created. Different structures have different levels of saltiness and porousness and blend with or absorb other flavors in different ways.
To make her Kiss & Tell garlic salt, she begins by boiling garlic in a small amount of water to draw out the essence. She then adds the salt, which dissolves, forming a kind of slush, which recrystallizes when it dries. Afterwards, she extracts the garlic pulp, dries it through slow roasting and mixes it with the infused salt for the turbo-charged flavor her products are known for.
When you open a jar of her garlic salt, you can actually smell it across the room.
Her salts have many uses. Up Close and Peachy, a fruit-and-cinnamon blend, is recommended for use on a yogurt parfait or pork tenderloin. Hot Head, a habanero-infused salt, can take vegetables, seafood and meats to a whole new level.
Other flavors include coconut, mushroom and pomegranate, all with clever names like Magma-Licious, Mushy Love and Pom-Pom Girl.
One of her most popular items is a $25 sample set containing a miniature test tube of each flavor.
With international orders coming in from as far away as Brazil, Salt Girl is a bit taken aback. “I guess I just didn’t realize the power of salt,” she says.
Saltopia salts are available at the Blairstown, Chester, Hopatcong, Long Valley and Madison farmer’s markets or online at saltopiasalts.com.
Here is a Santiago recipe using her Up Close and Peachy:
Peachy Pork Tenderloin
1/2 cup Peach Jam
8 large garlic cloves
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 cup honey Honey
"Up Close & Peachy" sea salt (add to taste)
Chives or green onions optional for garnish
Grill pork loin to desired temperature (medium rare and slightly pink is always best but not always preferred). While pork loin is grilling, in a small skillet, combine diced peaches, peach jam, minced garlic cloves, brown sugar, honey & "Up Close & Peachy" sea salt. Bring to a boil, cover and allow to simmer on low until peaches are softened. Once pork loin is finished grilling, slice and pour the peachy potion over the top of the sliced pork. Garnish with chives or green onion and serve!
Photos by Kimarie Santiago
SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at suzannelowery.com.