Salt of the (lowest place on) earth

Salt of the (lowest place on) earth

A New York-born, Israel-based entrepreneur is hoping to save the Dead Sea by marketing its salt, in 15 gourmet flavors

Debra writes for the JTA, and is a former features writer for The Times of Israel.

Ari Fruchter (photo credit: courtesy Ari Fruchter)
Ari Fruchter (photo credit: courtesy Ari Fruchter)

On September 17, 2011, as the sun crept above the shores of the Dead Sea, more than 1,000 Israelis stripped naked and posed together for a now-iconic photo shoot with American photographer Spencer Tunick.

The event, which helped propel the Dead Sea into the campaign for the New Seven Wonders of the World, was executed by Ari Fruchter, a high-tech executive hoping to draw international attention to the fact that the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth and the source of some its most potent minerals, is shrinking.

After those hundreds of people put their clothes back on and the buzz from the photo shoot died down, Fruchter, a New York native and Israeli resident, felt adrift. A few months later he had left his job at SanDisk, a flash memory card maker, and was itching for a new purpose. Convinced that the Dead Sea could become his pet project, he decided to launch a new enterprise, this one focusing not on the sea’s shores, but its salt.

And so, Naked Sea Salt, a line of gourmet, flavored sea salts harvested straight from the Dead Sea, was born. It’s an entirely green enterprise, Fruchter says, and one with both social and environmental benefits.

A view of the Dead Sea (photo credit: Michal Shmulovich/Times of Israel staff)
A view of the Dead Sea (photo credit: Michal Shmulovich/Times of Israel staff)

“I wanted to launch a company that’s set up to make money but also to do good,” Fruchter says. “And of course naturally I thought of the Dead Sea. There’s tons of companies that have all kinds of beauty products from the Dead Sea but no one has anything that you ingest. And I thought, well, why can’t I do something ingestible from the Dead Sea?”

When consumers think of Dead Sea products, Fruchter says, they think of what they can put on their bodies, but never what they can put into them.

“Every time I see the salt it’s bathing, it’s beauty, but nobody’s eating it. It doesn’t make any sense,” he says.

Naked Sea Salt (photo credit: Courtesy Ari Fruchter)
Naked Sea Salt (photo credit: Courtesy Ari Fruchter)

While scouting locations for Tunick’s photo shoot in 2011, Fruchter had noticed a small salt field run by a Palestinian family. He went back to learn more, and discovered West Bank Salt Works, a tiny Palestinian-run factory in Area C of the West Bank that has been harvesting and locally marketing Dead Sea salt for nearly half a century. It’s run by the Hallak family, who mine salt from a strip of earth that was once Jordan and have teamed up with a Haifa factory to add herbs, spices and flavor.

Fruchter smelled a real business opportunity, and partnered with the Hallaks. He christened the venture Naked Sea Salt, a nod to the Tunick installation, and unveiled a Kickstarter campaign to drum up enough funds to start manufacturing.

The initial Kickstarter goal of $10,000 was reached in two days. Everyone who donates can also submit a pre-order for one of the 15 flavors of salt available, which include sweet orange and chili, velvet plum merlot, and garlic and ginger. The new goal, which will be used for a first production run to fill pre-orders, is $50,000. With 12 days to go, donations are currently creeping to the $35,000 mark.

Gourmet salt has been a staple in chef’s kitchens for years, but Fruchter insists his product will bring something new, something to literally spice up the market.

“Salt, once upon a time, was the most precious commodity that you could imagine. Wars were fought over it,” he ways. “Today it’s probably the least expensive thing you can buy in a supermarket. And most of the salt that we have is really crap. It’s processed, stripped out of all the minerals and just add to it all kind of chemicals … The whole premium salt market is something that just came out in the past few years.”

The Hallak family, Fruchter says, was for years the only West Bank business that was keeping things small and local. Subsidized by USAID, they were simply harvesting the salt and selling it to the local Arabs.

“They were working in bulk, going into salt packets, in a very low-key operation,” Fruchter says. “Everyone else from the Dead Sea is big and corporate, stripping out the more precious minerals and literally destroying the Dead Sea.”

To make sure they were keeping their harvesting methods sustainable, Naked Salt teamed up with the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, which has offered its stamp of approval to affirm that the water levels and surrounding environment of the region aren’t affected.

The salt is also packed with nutrients, Fruchter says, as mineral-rich as the mud that tourists routinely slather on their bodies at the site. Comparing his product to the foodie favorite Himalyan Pink Salt, he says that a few sprinkles of the salt will add magnesium, calcium, iron and other feel-good deposits to your food.

“People go beserk over it, they love it,” he says of the product. “But there’s a big difference between creating something on our own and then getting into consumers’ hands. And what I decided is that because we’re not just looking to sell sell sell — there’s a strong message behind it — we set our company up as a social enterprise.”

On their Kickstarter page, Fruchter touts his partnership with the Hallak family and lays out his vision for the product.

“Naked Sea Salt represents a joint venture between Israelis and Palestinians, working together to share this product with the rest of the world,” it reads. “We believe that economic cooperation can be a powerful tool for peace, and we want to do our part.”

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