Traditional Sea Salt Production
How is it made
Preparing the ponds and harvesting the salt is hard work. Long days in the hot sun and heavy loads are the norm. Yet there is a definite sense of passion for the work and it is not uncommon to see men in their early 80’s out preparing the ponds, checking on the progress of the waters and harvesting the fruit of their labors.
The process of making salt is an art and a science. The usage of the waters must be planned in advance so that new waters are ready for the crystallizing ponds when the old water is spent. Advancing the water through the successive ponds requires measuring the salinity of the water. The degree of salinity of the brine will determine when the various elements in the brine will start to precipitate. This is important information when one wants to maximize the amounts of important elements such as calcium, magnesium and potassium in the final product.
After the end of the previous harvest season, the ponds are allowed to flood in order to protect the earthen barriers from erosion from rain and wind. In the springtime, normally in March, water is allowed to drain out and the ponds are cleaned and prepared for the harvesting season. Any structural damage or erosion to the pond barriers will be repaired at this time. Accumulations of plant matter and any other detritus are removed.
The process of forming salt out of seawater is effected through the cumulative effect of evaporation due to sun and wind. Thus, fresh seawater needs to be allowed in and consequently evaporated. Water is let in to an initial large pond during high tides. This pond serves as the source of water to the rest of the ponds until the next series of high tides. These high tides usually occur on a two week cycle.
STEP3 – Concentrating the Water Into the Brine
In order to concentrate the salt water into brine, a successive series of intermediate ponds are used. Well-made and maintained ponds allow the salt to proceed from one pond to the next using gravity. The depth of water allowed in each pond determines the strength which which the sun can act on the water to warm it. The ponds become successively more shallow allowing the water to heat up. The hotter the water becomes, the quicker it evaporates. The ponds at this stage are large to allow abundant wind flow across the water surface. During this process the degree of salinity of the water increases, almost to the point of crystallization.
STEP4 – Salt Cristallization
Water from the evaporative ponds is let into smaller crystallizing ponds. Crystallizing ponds are geometric networks of small ponds around which flows a common source of brine water. These ponds are smaller to aid in the harvest of the salt, which is performed manually using long wooden rakes. Alternatively, flor de sal is harvested off the top of the water using fine nets on wooden poles. Between each small pond is a berm which allows the working of the ponds and also a place for the harvested salt to drain off excess brine water before storage.
STEP5 – Harvesting Flower of Salt
Flor de sal is harvested from the top of the water, which is why it is sometimes considered as “the cream on top of the milk”. Flor de sal can only be harvested when the weather is agreeable. Too much wind and the crystals will sink to the bottom before the harvester has time to collect them. The fact that the crystals of flor de sal are at the start of their formative process explains their naturally fine and flaky nature. They can be considered as the seeds which grow into the larger crystals of coarse salt that form at the bottom of the ponds. The salt is normally harvested into baskets where it is allowed to rest and drain residual water and then stored indoors.
STEP6 – Salt Harvesting
The product of a number of weeks of evaporation by the sun and wind and the crystallization process of the heavily saturated brine water, coarse sea salt is allowed to accumulate in the ponds until the point at which salt formation begins to slow. At this point, the skill and endurance of the harvester is put to the test. The method and care used in the harvest of the salt has a lot to do with the ability to obtain a good quality salt, a naturally white salt with shiny crystals. The salt at the bottom of the pond is broken up by the rake using some light blows and agitation and consequently raked to the sides of the ponds. This needs to be done carefully so as not to reach the earthen bottom of the pond. A layer of salt should always be left to insulate the bottom of the pond. The raking process acts as a natural cleansing mechanism for the salt as most impurities are removed by the flow of brine water through the crystals.
STEP7 – Storage
The harvested salt is raked into long pyramids along the berms of the ponds where it is left to rest for 2-3 days. This process allows most of the residual water to drain out back into the ponds. At the end of this process to salt is ready for storage or further processing/packaging. Storage can either take place in large protected piles in nearby warehouses or in protective plastic sacks.