By Rachel Swick Mavity and Meg Ryan
Dave Burris loves hearing chefs describe the sensation of his flaky sea salt.
One told him, “It tastes like the wave that wiped me out when I was 7 years old,” Burris recalls.
Burris, a former Delaware state Senate employee and restaurant owner, is now the owner of Henlopen Sea Salt, whose prized product comes right from Lewes’ waters. The salt and salt blends have become so popular that he has trouble keeping up with the demand.
Burris was inspired to learn how to make salt about a decade ago when he saw a video on the topic. He’d take an empty milk gallon to the beach, fill it with bay water and then boil it on the stove.
The result, he says, was “technically salt, but it was it was not anything that anyone would eat.”
So, Burris set out to create something not only edible but also worth its salt. After years of honing his new craft, he launched Henlopen Sea Salt during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ironically, his timing couldn’t have been better.
“You saw people really start to care about where their food came from, buying things that were closer to home, buying things that were locally made and had local origins,” he says.
From the beginning, products often sold out within days or even hours of Burris announcing a new sale through his website. Those receiving his emails jump to purchase the products directly, but if they miss out, they’ll often try to find the product through one of Burris’ wholesale partners. Sometimes the only chance to get a taste is in a dish whipped up by a restaurant that uses the seasoning.
“The pressure is pretty hot right now for us to make as much as we can to get it to people,” Burris says.
Henlopen Sea Salt currently offers the classic flake sea salt and multiple salt blends, including Sea Salt Everything, the perfect addition to morning avocado toast. There are also the Saltmaker’s Dry Rub, which pairs nicely with slow-and-low barbecue, and Hatch Green Chile Sea Salt, which uses mild chiles from New Mexico paired with roasted California garlic flakes. Other popular flavors include S-P-G, a salt–pepper–garlic blend perfect for steaks, and Sea Salt Sazon, which includes achiote and pairs well with tacos, chicken and fish.
The process of making the flaky sea salt takes about three days. Burris starts with raw water from the Delaware Bay, right off Lewes Beach. He filters it twice and then begins the boiling.
“The finishing stage takes a while, as it has different times and temperatures from a full boil to kind of more of a simmer,” he explains.
During the boiling process, sea salt flakes form on the surface of the water. As they gain density, the flakes fall to the bottom of the pan. Burris then removes them from the water and places them in a dehydrator to finish the process.
“Sea salt loves moisture,” he explains. “So, it will almost always absorb moisture out of the air. We try very hard to get it as dry as we can before we inspect that packaging.”
One aspect of the business he likes the most is the collaborative spirit he feels when working with other salt creators. He enjoys researching how other companies create their salt products and often connects with salt makers across the globe, from Maine to California and even as far as New Zealand, to discuss the process, new flavors and tips of the trade.
“It’s been a very similar feeling to the brewing community where it seems very collaborative, which is really neat,” he says.
This year, Burris will begin testing a new process that will allow him to reduce his energy consumption by 90 percent. He is partnering with Story Hill Farm in Frankford to replace the hard-boiling step with one that involves solar evaporation in greenhouses. The change may impact salt availability this year.
“If this is successful, it will allow me to expand production while completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels in the creation of the salt,” he says. He cherishes creating something local representing his home state.
“It’s very cool to be able to promote Delaware this way,” he adds.