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Life tastes better with a pinch of salt

10 January 2010
Published in Society
by Christina Kolyva

tuareg_caravans_by_franco_paolinelliHaving grown up in a country with 300 days of sunshine per year, sovaldi I find that I have to use my imagination a lot more than the average English person to develop pronto survival mechanisms of coping with the rainy English weather when it is not possible to take time off to travel. My latest discovery is a culinary escape-route. No, not via overeating! After coming across Pythagoras’s quote “Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea”, my mind somehow started drifting to all the faraway, sunny water-lands that produce different gourmet salts. Hawaii, Peru, Australia, Japan… The salt rack is practically a mosaic of the world map assembled from colourful saline crystals. And no matter how humble or noble a ‘parentage’ a salt might have, if you let your senses be receptive to the delicate scent, the subtle flavour, the texture and the colour of a salt, it will take you vicariously to the sun and the sea that generated it, in the blink of an eye. I selected some of the salts I like to ‘travel’ with, to share with anyone who would like to try this way of voyaging.

Peruvian Pink Salt is brought to us from the Sacred Valley of the Incas in the Andes Mountains of Peru, slowly carried on the backs of donkeys down the steep descent. In breathtaking scenery where time seems to have stood still, warm water from a spring fed from an underground ocean oozes into terraced ponds and from there the salt is hand-harvested after the water evaporates in the sun, repeating the same cycle for some 2,000 years now. The crystals have a subtle pink colour – due to trace minerals such as iron – and high moisture content.

If alpine destinations are not really your cup of tea, why not dive together with the dolphins of the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of Kona in Hawaii, for some Deep Water Sea Salt? Pure seawater is brought from a depth of 2,000 feet below the ocean’s surface to enclosed spaces where it dries in the sun, without having ever been directly exposed to the pollutants of the environment. This salt consists of moist and snow-white flaky crystals, is extremely pure and rich in trace minerals, and (the good news!) has very low sodium content, making it suitable for a healthy diet.

maras_salt_pan_by_alex_leeHawaii also produces the widely known Red Alaea Sea Salt. From ancient times, the inhabitants of Kauai Island had discovered that a very special salt was forming through sun evaporation during the rain season, when Pacific Ocean water infiltrated with washed-down alaea (red volcanic clay), became trapped in the shoreline tidal pools. This salt has been used since then in sacred ceremonies and healing rituals. Alaea salt is full of goodness and captivating looks, being rich in iron oxide, nutrients and trace-minerals and full of vibrant colour.

Marsupial friends can be visited by proxy via the south-eastern Australian Murray River Salt, worth buying not just because of its superior flavour, but also as an (admittedly symbolic, rather than substantial!) environmental act. Under the Murray Darling Basin there are large quantities of naturally saline water. Although the Basin is flushed by the snowmelt descending from the Alps via the Murray River, salt is making its way into the soil and the groundwater, causing agricultural, ecological and economic concerns. Using the saline water of the Basin for salt extraction improves the environment and produces an exquisite salt at the same time. Murray River salt flakes are crunchy, with a warm peach colour, due to the red pigment of algae that inhabit the brine.

Although salt is inherently related to water, the very popular Himalayan Salt will convey you to a place where you can keep your feet completely dry! This rock salt is from Pakistan and is mined in the Khewra Salt Mines. It is essentially prehistoric sea salt, from seawaters that existed when our planet’s ecosystem was still perfectly unspoiled. The colossal geological phenomena that led to the formation of the Himalayan Mountains and the disappearance of the Tethys Ocean, simultaneously resulted in huge quantities of salt being buried and crystallised deep within the mountains. Himalayan salt is usually light pink, but the exact colour varies depending on mineral content.

Another exciting salt originating from Hawaii is the shiny and (literally!) coal-black Lava Salt from the island of Molokai. This salt, similar to the silvery Cyprus Black Lava Salt, is produced by blending local sea salt with purified black lava rock and activated charcoal. These salts are very rich in minerals and have detoxifying properties. Apart from all these benefits though, isn’t the idea of bringing both exotic Hawaii and a tiny hint of Earth mantle to your plate, with just a single pinch of salt, simply fascinating?

Japan might be surrounded by water, but due to the damp climate Japanese salt is quite rare. Nazuna Salt is produced at the Kyushu island of Japan, inside pyramid-shaped solar houses where it is left to crystallise in dishes made from cypress wood. Jewel of the Ocean is another Japanese salt, produced from mixed deep and surface seawater to achieve a potent mineral content. Evaporation through the sun and the wind and further dehydration in ceramic, hand-made pans inside glass hothouses yields this beautiful salt. The name is derived from the appearance of the salt crystals, which are reminiscent of gemstones, both in terms of looks and quality. This salt is very difficult to find on the market.

And for a more local trip, how about Cornish Sea Salt? It comes from the pristine turquoise waters around Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula, where salt was produced by the Celts as early as the Iron Age, by boiling seawater in clay pans over open gorse- and hazel-wood fires. Today though, saltwater is steam-evaporated in very modern and environmentally-friendly facilities and the salt is hand-harvested from evaporation pans. The resulting crystals are brilliant white and flaky and – due to the natural way of processing the Atlantic seawater – this is one or the purest sea salts you can find, retaining all of its minerals to the full.

I hope reading this helped you banish those negative thoughts triggered by the bad weather outside! If not, maybe you should try carrying some salt in your pocket for good luck and also throw some over your left shoulder, just for good measure!

For inquisitive cooks: Salt Traders, Beyond the Shaker, Salt Works and Tuareg salt caravans.

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