Ranquist draws his water from coastal upwelling currents between Mount Desert Rock and Swan’s Island, and then evaporates his catch in solar salt sheds on the island’s glacial ledges. After six years, he has finally acquired the financial backing from Machias Savings Bank to expand a project that has gained interest from consumers, locally and from across the country.
He is one of just a few people in this region who bottle sea salt through a natural solar evaporation process. Many sea salts found in community supermarkets are formed through artificial evaporation methods with the use of fans, boilers and heaters.
Ranquist has named his bottled product, “Mount Desert Rock Sea Salt.” Not to be confused with Mount Desert Island, “The Rock”, as locals call it, is a marine biology research station for students of the Bar Harbor-based College of the Atlantic.
“It’s as clean as you’re going to get it,” Renquist said, standing by the open door of one of the sheds. He wants people to know he is not just getting water out of a nearby bay, where land run-off could affect salt quality.
The coastal upwelling currents between Mount Desert Rock and Swan’s Island bring cooler, nutrient-rich waters from deep below the ocean surface.
Ranquist said it takes six to seven months for the sea water to evaporate in the solar salt sheds. Ranquist’s sheds look a lot like greenhouses and sit on a granite slope in the center of Swan’s Island. They have no shelves inside and their floors are covered with United States Department of Agriculture-approved food grade plastic sheeting. He collects the water in 250-gallon tanks, then pours 1000 gallons of water into each of the salt sheds. When the water looks like it is close to forming crystals, he adds another 1000 gallons. He uses a garden hoe (used exclusively for salt production) to scoop the evaporated salt into piles as excess water drains out. Salt crystals stick to the plastic so Ranquist has to keep moving the salt as it forms. He then puts the salt into cheese cloth bags to further drain.
He began this enterprise six years ago while shipping lobster by air freight. Ranquist added complimentary packages of his sea salt for cooking the lobster he shipped across the United States. He started evaporating ocean water using a four by eight foot A-frame solar salt shed on the pier of his island business, The Underwater Taxi. This shed served as a prototype for the larger sheds he currently uses.
Ranquist processed and bottled sea salt for a number of years without seeing any profits. He started selling the salt through his own shop and then through other vendors around the island.
The salt idea stuck, even as the lobster air freight business fell by the wayside in the wake of increased shipping costs, a slumping economy and other factors. Ranquist and his wife, Rhonda, use the salt in their own cooking and he said they have received numerous compliments on the salt from customers.
Multiple online sources show that table salt, which is mined from underground reservoirs, contains roughly the same amount of sodium chloride as sea salt. However, some of the minerals are stripped out during the refining process. The process of naturally evaporating sea salt leaves minerals intact. For this reason, many believe regional sea salts have unique flavors, textures and colors.
Trisha Davis, owner of Cutie Cakes Bakeshop in Sabastopol, California uses Mount Desert Rock Sea Salt on chocolate-coated butter caramels and in a chocolate and caramel tart. She said customers have enjoyed the taste of her deserts with the Maine sea salt.
“It has a great crispness and saltiness,” said Davis, “It doesn’t have that fishy taste you often find in other sea salt.”
Word about Ranquist’s bottled salt has spread from the island to specialty food stores on the nearby mainland, as well, such as the Little Notch Bakery in Southwest Harbor.