A seven-day, 155-mile trek through the remote Namibian desert to the Skeleton Coast is enough to inspire anyone. For South Africa’s Samantha Skyring, it was the inspiration for Oryx Desert Salt.
The adventurous serial entrepreneur facilitated drumming workshops for more than 30,000 disadvantaged children in Africa and founded guided kayaking expeditions on Lake Malawi. Oryx Desert Salt is her first food endeavor, and the brand has been picked up by Whole Foods in the USA. Oryx Desert Salt has also become a preferred salt for South African chefs who appreciate its purity and fuller, yet gentler flavor than that of sea salt. Next stop: U.S. restaurants.
The name Oryx was inspired by a species of antelope indigenous to the Kalahari Desert, a 350,000- square -mile area encompassing Botswana and parts of Namibia and South Africa. “Kalahari” means “dry place” in the local Twsana tribal dialect. Indeed, this desert is considered one of the oldest and driest in the world.
A unique geological characteristic of this remote region is large sand seas that can span many miles. Oryx sources its product from an underground desert salt lake located 300 miles from the coast measuring 20 miles wide. The ancient Dwyka rock formations, through which the underground streams flow, are geo-scientifically tested to be 250-300 million years old. The closest town is 150 miles away.
During harvesting, saltwater is pumped from the underground lake. The pure saturated brine rests on the open pan where it is naturally sundried at temperatures reaching as high as 120° Fahrenheit. “Sea salt can take one to two years to harvest; in comparison, our desert salt can crystallize within four weeks,” noted Skyring.
Skyring says many chefs have said Oryx Desert Salt imparts a fuller, slightly sweeter flavor than sea salt which is usually more intense. Oryx Desert Salts are available in both plain and flavored selections. I was a fan of the lightly smoked salt which accented dishes just enough without overpowering. Oryx grindable black peppercorns are sourced from small farmers and cooperatives in Madagascar. Products are sold in refillable glass bottles with grinder heads which Skyring said can last ten times longer than those made with plastic and are better for the environment.
Skyring donates a percentage of monthly sales to the Khomani San and Mier communities in the Kalahari. Oryx’s cotton bags are manufactured by a women’s township project. For its packaging, Oryx works with Ukama, a social enterprise that helps women from previously disadvantaged communities create their own micro-businesses.
Unless noted, all other images provided by Oryx Desert Salt
New Feature: Each month, Santé Magazine Food Editor Melanie Young spotlights one of her Fabulous Finds that she has personally tasted and tested. The focus is independent, women and minority-owned food and beverage companies and brands committed to social enterprise.