Salt of the earth?

Two unlikely business partners, an Israeli and a Palestinian, shake off their differences and join forces to provide an essential ingredient for gourmet cooking.

Salt 424 (521)  (photo credit: Courtesy Ari Gortersman)
Salt 424 (521)
(photo credit: Courtesy Ari Gortersman)
Few ideas have the power to bring together two individuals sitting at opposite ends of a bitter, longstanding regional conflict.
But for Alon Lior and Hoosam Halek, the only necessary ingredient was salt.
Not just any salt, but cooking salt straight from the Dead Sea.
Lior, an Israeli, is the CEO of NT SALT, an Israeli salt manufacturing company.
Halek, a Palestinian, serves as general manager of the West Bank Salt Co., which produces salt on the shores of the Dead Sea for citizens of the West Bank and Gaza.
Through a shared vision, Lior and Halek have managed to overcome their geographical differences by creating their own brand of gourmet cooking salt obtained entirely from the Dead Sea.
The brand, titled Salt 424, differs from most other gourmet cooking salts, which are actually produced in designated salt pools rather than the Dead Sea, according to Lior and Halek.
Their collaboration seeks to capitalize on what they say is a relatively new market for gourmet salt around the world, while using their proximity to the lowest point on earth – 424 meters below sea level – to gain a competitive advantage.
“About five years ago the whole gourmet salt line started to come alive worldwide, kind of like chocolate was 10 years ago, coffee was 20 years ago,” Halek said.
Having had plenty of experience in the industry already, Halek said Lior approached him about three years ago wanting to join forces.
“When [Lior] came and said ‘Look, I want to do something with salt, what can we do?’ I said ‘Well listen, salt is salt.’ Unless you make it real exotic and exciting, it stays salt,” he said.
“I told him what we need to do if you are going to get into salt is you either make something unique and special and really exotic that will stand out, or stay home.”
The raw materials for the brand are produced at a factory north of the Dead Sea, where they are crystallized. The salt is then taken to a factory in Haifa to be mixed with various herbs, spices, and wines to create about 24 different flavors of the brand.
Throughout this process, the salt remains “100 percent organic,” according to Lior.
“Salt is not only salt as most people think, because most of the salt in the world contains a lot of chemical additives that make it whiter,” Lior said. “Our salt has nothing inside – no chemicals, no additives.”
Another major distinction of Salt 424 is its aspect of environmental friendliness, Lior and Halek say, as the company strives to avoid unnecessary damage to the Dead Sea.
“All other factories take water from the Dead Sea and boil it,” Lior said. “We do not do that. We take the water and bring it back to the Dead Sea, because we want to keep the Dead Sea as our source for all other materials.”
Halek stressed the importance of this process.
“I think it’s important to think of what’s going to happen to the Dead Sea 200 years from now,” he said. “We’re not doing enough to take care of it. We’re actually destroying it, watching it disappear.”
Making use of resources from the Dead Sea, while at the same time preserving it for future generations of Israelis and Palestinians, is what underscores the unique nature the partnership between Lior and Halek.
“We are making a living for our kids. We want our kids to live in prosperity,” Lior said.
“We are talking business… I have never thought, ‘He is a Palestinian, should I work with him or not?’” he said. “I don’t care if he is black, white, Arab, Jewish, Israeli, Palestinian – it doesn’t matter. We are taking all the politics out.”
Halek concurred with his business partner.
“He has something to offer and I have something to offer,” he said. “It’s about mutual respect.”