by Sun’s Dragon
As your plane approaches the Algarve’s Faro Airport, you can see the famous salt pans below, such a welcome sight for those of us coming home and for the tourists starting their sunny holidays. However, most of us don’t realise the work and wealth involved with these salt pans; to us they are just the first sign that we are coming in to land!
The value of salt
Over the millennia, salt has been a highly prized commodity and no wonder, without it mankind would not exist. Salt is an essential element for all animal life and for the wellbeing of the human race. Although we think of it now as “just salt”, in the olden days it was a precious article of trade; so much so, it was once used as currency and wars have been fought over it. Hence these common English sayings:
“Below the salt” - where the lower ranks or more insignificant people were placed at table. The precious salt cellar being placed in the centre of the table.
“Worth one’s salt” - is to be worth one’s pay; the word salary stems from this as the ancient Roman soldiers were paid partly in hard currency and partly in salt.
“Salt of the Earth” - a term for an exceptionally worthy or valued person.
“Taken with a pinch of salt” - means to accept a statement with a certain degree of scepticism.
Extracting salt from water has always been a long and difficult process and the same goes for mining salt from the ground. With the technology available to us today, salt has become much more available and affordable than in those far off days when it was much harder to come by and therefore so much more valuable.
More than just salt
Take a look at some of the different salts there are around the world. I had no idea that there were so many different colours and flavours to this element, I just thought salt was a common white food enhancer.
The many types of sea salt
For two thousand years, the cream of the crop as far as salt is concerned has been produced and gathered in the Eastern Algarve. Fleur de Sel, as the French call it, is collected from the very top layer of the famous salt pans of the Algarve and from the equally famous French salt ponds. Chefs across the world consider this the best finishing salt available. It dissolves slowly, delivering a full and balanced flavour due to its special crystalline shape.
Atlantic Grey Salt
The high mineral content of Sel Gris makes it naturally lower in sodium.
Alaea, Hawaiian Red Salt
This one is a traditional Hawaiian table salt, rich in trace minerals. This salt is enriched with the iron-oxide of harvested red “Alae” clay.
Smoked Sea Salt
Smoked salts are used for adding natural flavour to a meal.
Maldon salt melts quickly and is one of the most ancient gourmet salts in the world. It’s named after the small English village where it’s produced.
Peruvian Pink Salt
The most fascinating feature of this salt is the way it is extracted: even though Maras is situated at 9.842,52 feet above sea level, we are still talking about a sea salt! Its ancient origins lay within the legends of the Inca civilization
Bali, is in the Indian Ocean, where two oceanic streams of different temperatures meet which creates this easily dissolving, delicate salt.
Hawaiian Green Salt
The Green Hawaiian salt is a natural, hand-picked salt simply mixed with the juice extracted from Bamboo leaves. This salt has a strong and spiced flavour.
Murray River Salt
The consistency of this salt resembles corn flakes, rather than that of traditional salt, and it dissolves very easily.
Rock Salt (Halite)
Rock salt can be found in the US and Canada, from the Appalachian mountains through Ontario and under the Michigan basin. Ohio, Kansas and New Mexico are among the States that are also rich in salt deposits. In Pakistan there is a massive salt mine near Islamabad and in Cheshire, England, they produce half a million tons every six months.
Kala Namak Salt
This salt is purple in colour. One of the most fascinating characteristics of this salt is undoubtedly its scent and its sulphurous flavour.
Himalayan Pink Salt
Pure, hand mined salt found deep within the Himalayan Mountains. The crystals are high in minerals and range in colour from white to various shades of pink and red.
Nowadays, a minute amount of iodide is added to our table salt for two good reasons. Firstly, it stops the salt from congealing into a solid lump and, secondly, it prevents intellectual and development deficiencies through a lack of iodine in our diets.
Preserving with salt
Salt or brine (very salty water) have been used to preserve food long before written records even existed. Salt draws all liquid from food and therefore kills off bacteria which needs moisture to survive. Both Jews and Muslims use these methods to remove all traces of blood from their freshly slaughtered meat as is required by their religions.
In medieval times, people often had to go for long stretches with no fresh meat, so they relied on dried or salt-preserved meats during those times. Because salt was very expensive, only meats high in fat would be preserved. Tough and stringy meat such as mutton wasn’t usually preserved as it was just “not worth its salt”.
Foods such as butter and cheese were also preserved with salt, and brine was used for pickling too, especially vegetables. Ships that undertook long journeys stocked up with salted and brine pickled foodstuffs, without which the crews would have starved.
The most famous preserved fish and meat in the Algarve is Bacalhao (salted cod fish) and Presunto (cured ham), both of these delicacies are salted and dried. The Algarveans have a multitude of recipes for the salted cod and the Presunto is thinly sliced and used in many different ways too.
Salt and ice
It’s a well-known fact that to defrost something quickly, put salt on it! Salt demolishes ice very rapidly. It’s a common practice for people in cold climates to sprinkle salt on their icy driveways and pavements to prevent accidents. There’s nothing more annoying for children than to find their “super, duper slide” has been “de-iced” by interfering adults. Many cities use a mixture of sand and salt on icy roads to improve traction for the traffic.
Salt and destruction
In the olden days, a King would often have salt poured onto the land of a convicted traitor. King Joseph I of Portugal used this method to destroy the palace of the Duke of Aveiro in 1759, for his participation in a conspiracy against the King. A stone memorial now perpetuates the memory of the disgraced Duke and his ignominious fate.
Salt and superstition
Many of us toss a pinch of spilled salt over our left shoulder, which is supposed to ward off evil spirits. Wearing a small bag of salt around your neck protects one from the Evil Eye. Salt is said to be the bringer of good luck, so many people give it as a house warming gift or take it into their homes for New Year. Place a pinch of salt in a baby’s crib until the baby is christened.
Salt is supposed to be an unlucky word for sailors and should never be mentioned at sea. (It’s somewhat strange then that sailors are often referred to as ‘salts’).
Salt and cleaning
Did you know that salt is a marvellous product for cleaning so many things around the home? Salt and vinegar combined makes an excellent carpet cleaner, removes those awful “tide marks” in your bath, makes chrome and silver sparkle, cleans pots and pans and is a great oven cleaner too. Add salt to your coffee maker and boil, it will be cleaner and more efficient than ever. Salt and lemon juice is also brilliant for stubborn stains. Cover blood stains with a drop of water and a layer of salt to see them disappear.
So the next time you ask someone to “pass the salt” at the table, remember how lucky we are in this day and age to have it so readily available, at a reasonable price, and how much work has gone into its production. However, do remember not to spill salt on the table, it brings bad luck!
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