In the case of salted caramels, the influence came directly from France. Heavily salted butter caramels are a traditional treat in Brittany. More recently, Pierre Hermé, the Parisiapastry chef known for his experimentation, invented a salted caramel macaron that inspired a small cult among American food professionals in the late 1990s.
Rising along a parallel path, meanwhile, was a related trend, salted chocolate. Mr. Hermé sprinkled chocolate with fleur de sel, a flaky salt hand-harvested from the marshes of Brittany. In 1998, the San Francisco chocolate maker Michael Recchiuti was selling his own fleur de sel caramels covered in chocolate.