Colin Duggan is a paludier, the French term for someone who harvests sea salt. But he calls himself something different: a professional water boiler.
Duggan is the owner of Tidal Salt, a sea-salt harvestry in Nova Scotia. As a political-science and psychology graduate of St. Francis Xavier University, this isn’t the career he’d imagined for himself.
He was working in New Hampshire at a rehab facility for people who had dual development disorders. He had hoped it would help him immigrate to Maine to be with his wife. “The officials told me off,” he recalls. “They didn’t want people coming and taking their jobs. So I went home and I had two Keith’s left in my fridge and I told my wife, I said, ‘OK, we’re going to Nova Scotia.”
Duggan and his wife Audrey moved back to Nova Scotia about four years ago. Two years later, she went home to visit family and that’s when Duggan came up with the idea of making something for her. “She’s a chef and event planner, so I figured she’d get a kick out of it, if anything,” he says.
Duggan was at Lawrencetown Beach and happened to have a bucket in the car. He filled the bucket with water from the ocean, took it back to his car and drove home. “Like a lot of people these days, I pulled up a few YouTube videos and found some people who made stovetop sea salt and made [Audrey] some sea salt,” he recalls. “It got the gears turning.”
Duggan adds he’s been able to find some sort of sea salt harvestry in essentially every country that has a coastline. “It just wasn’t something we were doing here and that doesn’t make sense.”
He says he thinks it’s because of the limited sunshine and strict food regulations here, but he hopes Nova Scotia can overcome that. “Particularly, in Atlantic Canada, we can take advantage of our diverse coastline, we can build our brand: Nova Scotia sea salt done our way,” he explains. “If you go down the eastern seaboard in the U.S., every state has a salt producer. Every single one of them.”
It took Duggan almost eight months of tinkering to come up with an appropriate method of creating sea salt. He says people didn’t believe in him at first. “Pardon the pun, but everyone took it with a grain of salt,” he says.
Tidal Salt opened in 2016 and sells 35-gram jars of fleur de sel. “We have [nine] flavours that we do; essentially we take the salt and toss in a dry component to add a flavour,” he says. “There’s also infusions and things we can do with red wine … and we do a lime flavour that comes out bright green and we put a lime zest in it and it pulls out that flavour so you get this nice kind of zip to it.”
The business also sells smaller jars in gift boxes with four flavoured salts and one fleur de sel. They’re available via the website and in a few retail stores (see tidalsalt.ca for details and food-pairing ideas).
Duggan’s sea salt has a much stronger flavour than table salt. He says people who have grown up around the ocean describe it as, “when you’re a kid and you get a mouthful of ocean water.”
“We call it, ‘A piece of Nova Scotia,’ and that’s literally what it is. We don’t add anything to it and we don’t artificially take anything away.”