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Did you know that it could take a whole week of 100 percent sunshine to be able to make salt? With intermittent showers or even a slight drizzle a salt maker must start again from zero. That’s how hard it is to make salt.
We have heard of asin buy-o from Botolan, Zambales which comes in very natural packaging of coconut leaves woven and almost sewn together using the ribs, fronds and twigs. The long bell shape makes it look like a fat wine bottle and distinct from other artisan salt shapes.
There is also the duldul or tultul from Western Visayas which could have sharp corners, with odd sizes broken from the rectangular salt molds, I guess. In a post made by salt advocate Dr. Kat Apilado of Jose Rizal University, she describes the process as it is done in the town of Jordan on Guimaras island. It is made by burning salt-saturated driftwood gathered along the seashore. The ashes of the driftwood are collected and placed in a bamboo basket secured on an elevated platform. Seawater is then poured onto the ashes to filter it. With this, salt crystals from the driftwood ashes also get dissolved into the trickling liquid, which is collected and mixed with coconut milk.
The solution is then poured into rectangular molds set above a slow fire – allowing all moisture to evaporate. The solution is continuously added as water evaporates, thereby forming layers of compact dense blocks of salt.
They say an Ilocano version is called tedted, and this comes in elongated bars probably formed by restrictive rigid molds for the salt water to dry in.
And yes, that is our artisanal salt industry, needing help from the private sector and hopefully from government too. Did you know we even import salt now? I find it hard to believe that our long coastline and archipelagic state still does not make for a sustainable salt industry. Really, why must we import salt?
The answer is in your hands and on your table or pantry. If you keep using ready-made commercial salt, you will not be helping protect our fledgling salt industry. Make sure you ask for artisan sea salt and the salt makers will be back, using age-old ways of making the planet’s favorite food flavoring.
In Balesin island we were shown how salt beds depend on a week of continuous sunshine to be able to form salts they can rake and sell to their visitors. Though they have elevated drying tables, these take longer than making them in natural black vinyl-lined large salt beds. For further appreciation by their guests, Balesin bottles the salts after mixing in some herbs or chili for other variants of the seasoning. You can also have plain salt with just the flavors of the sea, or have them flavored with oregano, basil and other herbs they grow in the island.
In Botolan, Zambales, a group also led by Professor Apilado has supported the salt makers by making a video of their process so customers would be encouraged to support this small-scale operation. Dr. Kat sells them by order and hopes this can also be available in farmers’ markets or in street bazaars as well as in supermarkets.
Chefs swear by these salts and prefer them to imported sea salts. As for me, though I use it sparingly, I like to flavor my frozen yogurt with extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Even butter tastes wonderful with a dash of this kind of salt.
Rather than use powdered instant flavors or seasonings, salt (and sugar) are the more natural choices we should use. Rock salt, sea salt and however you wish to call these miracle bits of flavor from the sea, they enhance any dish or recipe. When the recipe calls for salt, make sure you choose sea salt.
Salt is also the main ingredient to preserve fish, meats and other animal sources of protein. You have heard of salted pork, corned beef, dried squid and fish. All of these use salt. Or they may have been caught from salty waters and dried to a level that keeps them bacteria-free.
Salt of the Earth. That is what we say when we talk about the importance of something – we refer to salt. You are the salt of the earth.
Salt is also useful when we are dehydrated. We need mineral salts and there are hydrating drinks containing that – salt and some sugar. Dehydration due to extreme heat can be fatal, so we need a pinch of salt and water.
I find it disappointing when restaurants and cafés just serve iodized salt and offer no alternative that is a little more thoughtful, meaning a little more artisanal and natural. It is not expensive and gives eating places an extra point for attention to detail. Gone are the days when serving iodized salt was more classy. Serving sea salt is now the better choice and says a lot about the food choices of the operators of the establishment.
Mind your salt. Look for artisan salt and look for the origin or source. We pray you will find salt from Zambales, Negros, Guimaras or Balesin. And maybe by using artisanal salt in your everyday cooking, we may just save this industry. So know your salt.
This article first appeared on Philstar.com