A sommelier is someone who works at a restaurant in the position of advising people what type of wine will go best with their meal. But what is a semelier? It is a similar position except instead of advising about wine, this professional restaurant person advises about which type of gourmet salt you should add to your menu items. The word hasn’t quite caught on yet (some people call it a salt sommelier instead) but the position is increasing in frequency at restaurants around the world.
Why a diner may want to use the services of a semelier
One of the hottest trends in the food industry is the introduction of gourmet salt options to restaurant menus. Although most of us just add normal table salt to our food if we want to spice up its taste, there are actually many different salt options available in the world. Gourmet salt adds its own unique flavor to the item that it goes atop of. People are increasingly interested in this trend but they typically do not have enough experience with gourmet salts to confidently select the right types of salt for their meals. Many people don’t want to take the risk of choosing the “wrong” salt and having a meal that they don’t enjoy because of the poor decision. For that reason, diners are interested in salt sommeliers at restaurants, people who will advise them about their salt options and explain why they recommend one over another for a particular dish.
Why a restaurant may want a semelier
Restaurants offer the services of a semelier to please the types of customers described above. However, there is more to it than this. Restaurants, particularly high end restaurants and trendy restaurants (the type that would be most likely to carry gourmet salt) are about more than just the food that they offer. They are about creating an entire dining experience for their patrons. The semelier adds to that experience, providing education and options to customers that heighten their experience. This allows the restaurant to stand out above the competition in a tightly competitive market.
Gourmet salts a semelier may offer you
So what types of salt might you be offered and educated about by the semelier at a fine dining experience? Here are some common gourmet salts:
o Alaea Red Clay Salt. This type of gourmet salt is added to meat and fish dishes to enhance their natural flavor. This red colored salt also adds a nice kick to dark chocolate desserts and certain types of cheese. It is also sometimes called Hawaiian Alaea Sea Salt.
o Australian Murray River Salt. This is a type of sea salt that is similar in taste to other more affordable sea salt but is a pricier, fancier alternative. It is sometimes called Pink Flake Salt although it’s typically more of a peach color than a pink shade.
o Celery Salt. This is a type of flavored sea salt that is made from ground celery seeds that are mixed with traditional salt. It is good on various vegetable dishes including soups, salads and casseroles.
o Fleur de Sel.This is a high-end salt from France. It is considered a “sprinkling salt” meaning that it should be sprinkled on to a dish immediately prior to serving. This grey-toned salt is good on many different types of dishes and is often used on desserts.
o Hawaiian Black Lava Salt. This is a type of gourmet salt that goes well on nearly any type of meat including seafood. It is actually a blend of volcanic charcoal and sea salt! Charcoal is reported to have health benefits including digestive properties. It adds a smoky flavor to the dish that makes it great on many meat dishes.
o Himalayan Pink Salt. This is a pretty-colored alternative to traditional sea salt. It is considered to be one of the purest forms of salt available today. It is rich in minerals and nutrients, making it a healthy choice for people adding salt to their diets.
o Indiana Kala Namak.You will know this black gourmet salt by its smell because it smells like anything but gourmet. In fact, it smells a bit like rotten eggs. However, when added to Indian chutneys and certain exotic fruits it really draws out the flavor of the item.
o Smoked Sea Salt. This is a type of flavored sea salt. It is commonly used to dress up the taste of chicken. Basically it adds a smoky flavor to the item so it would be good on any meats or vegetables that you wanted to have a barbecue-inspired taste.
o Spiced Salt. This is one of the most common options. It is a sea salt that has additional spices added to it. For example, the brand McCormick Mediterranean Spiced Sea Salt has garlic, basil and oregano as the main ingredients added to the salt. What this salt goes best with depends on the specific spices used.
o Truffle Salt. Truffles are a rich item that many people have heard should be enjoyed if possible. Truffle salt provides a way to get a taste of truffles in a more affordable fashion. Truffles have a very earthy taste to them so that is the taste that you’d be adding to your dish. Many people like adding truffle salt on the top of hardboiled eggs.
o Vanilla Salt. This is a flavored sea salt that goes especially well with fish dishes but will work with both sweet and savory dishes thanks to the great flavor of vanilla.
Have you ever used gourmet salts? How about the services of a semelier?
Louise on November 24, 2012:
Hi Kathryn, great article and I love salt.
Have you ever heard of Wildcrafted Seaweed Salt?
As far as I know we are the only ones in the world that produce pure Kelp salt. It taste about 10 times saltier than table or sea salt.
It is also the world's most expensive salt. It takes us 1 year to collect 1 pound.
More info here
BkCreative from Brooklyn, New York City on March 02, 2011:
What a brilliant article. Some time ago I read an article (2 pages with a colorspread) about a couple priding themselves on their knowledge of gourmet salts. So they opened a store and never looked back - they sell every kind of salt. Not only do they cater to the walk-in customer, but they do big business with restaurants and then there is male order - oops I mean mail order!
There is real salt - like on your list here and then the garbage we buy in the supermarket or what is added to all processed food - which then happily kills us.
Wonderful hub and rated way up - thanks a million!
Peter Owen from West Hempstead, NY on March 02, 2011:
I'm not sure if I would try to make a career doing this, but it is very interesting. do you know if there are other specialities in a restaurant other than the wine expert?