The Balinese tradition of salt farming dates back almost a thousand years, but has only recently gained recognition from fascinated tourists and salt connoisseurs. Both tourists and consumers are willing to pay for natural sea salt which is harvested from the top surface of crystallized, unspoiled, sea water by the small farmers of Kusamba village, a Balinese traditional fishing village.
Many generations have benefited from Kusamba’s unique geographical location, using their conventional method of harvesting, to produce natural salt with a truly distinctive texture and subtle flavour. Salt farmers live together in modest huts on the beach displaying the strength required to persevere under these difficult conditions. This could be the last generation of salt farmers on Bali.
East Bali provides as much for visitors as any of Bali’s other regions. The south coast is home to the popular seaside resort town of Candidasa and several ferries to Lombok at Padang Bai. The great Mount Agung (Bali’s highest volcano) looms large over the whole of east Bali and hosts the holiest of temples, Pura Besakih. Travelling further east, a popular and ever charming stretch of coast takes you through beautiful Amed.
Kusamba beach is located around seven kilometers east of Semarapura, where farmers harvest natural sea salt under the swaying coconut palms. If you decide to visit Candidasa, you will certainly pass Kusamba from Denpasar on your way to Klungkung. You can see the small salt-making huts and coconut-drying trunks from the road. Dozens of farmers scratch the black sand, which is scattered with seaweed, while others are busy transferring sand to the old huts along the shore.
White sails of fishing boats decorate the sea highlighting the strait between Bali and Nusa Penida Island, which is inhabited with a plentiful supply of fish. Along the coast there are 40 families of fisherman but only two second-generation salt farmers in the village who are responsible for maintaining this profession. These two salt-farming families have now become a ‘tourist attraction’ and within one hour of my arrival at least five other tourists arrive to supplement the farmers revenue. Selling salt as souvenirs and receiving donations from the tourists has become an important and necessary source of income. The salt farmers are usually only able to produce 10 kilograms of salt on a scorching hot day, worth around Rupiah 100,000, but the money they receive from tourists contributes significantly towards feeding their families.
The Eastern shore of Bali borders the Lombok Strait, bringing cold water from the north, which mixes with warm tropical water, creating a sea salt that is mild and sweet in flavour. Early morning visitors to the black sand beaches of Kusamba will find salt farmers making their way to and from the ocean with wooden or leather buckets balanced on bamboo poles carried across their shoulders. Slowly and with a defined rhythm, they splash seawater across the raked and pre-smoothed sand along their path. Over the next few hours, the warm sun bakes the sand into flakes from which the salt is to be harvested. Typically, two days of work usually produces about four-five bags of salt. Since the drying is dependent on the sun, this process can only be done during the dry months of March to November. The extremely demanding physical nature of this job and its low returns is gradually reducing the number of salt farmers in Bali.
Sea salt is produced naturally by solar evaporation on a scale of only a few kilos a day per producer. The processing of seawater into salt is all done by hand with the help of the forces of nature. Local farmers not only provide samples as souvenirs for tourists, but they sell the harvest to traditional markets or collectors who then distribute the salt to various factories or merchants.
Wind and water join to create a natural union that determines the unique crystal character of each salt grain. This coarse grain is the result of periods of hot mornings and rainy afternoons, relying on the heat of the fierce sun and gusty winds. The production takes time and attention to detail with each small batch requiring two weeks of hand panning and grading. Although the process is fascinating to visitors, the work is tedious, tiring, and painstakingly time consuming with a very small yield. This really is an industry worth preserving.
The thin flakes are gathered carefully and washed with fresh water in a series of wooden drums arranged like a miniature canal system to make pure saltwater brine. The brine is poured over split timber planks that are spread across several wooden frames for further evaporation under the sun, a process, which can take a few days. The salt grains are drained into bamboo-leaf cones before being packed into little plastic bags for sale, as a ‘healthy alternative’ to table salt.
It eliminated the dependence on the seasonal availability of food and allowed all those fearless seafaring folk to travel long distances with a bounty of preserved snacks. The bitter, intense taste of iodized salt pales in comparison to the honest flavour of this coarse, home-harvested kitchen icon from Kusamba.
Sea salt obtained from solar evaporation of seawater is entirely different from modern refined salt, and it contains a variety of minerals that play a role in keeping the bodies electrolytes in a healthy balance. Unfortunately, the common table salt we use today is primarily kiln-dried sodium chloride with anti-caking agents added. Trace minerals, as well as calcium, magnesium and potassium salts are removed in processing. Kiln drying involves scorching salt at high heat to remove moisture. This refining process creates a product that is unnatural and hard on the body, contributing to high blood pressure, heart trouble, kidney disease and eczema, among other avoidable health problems.
Taste is the biggest difference between table salt and sea salt. Sea salt simply tastes saltier, in part due to its bigger crystals and the natural trace minerals that add earthy tones, which vary, depending on the location of the source. Some sea salts also have complex flavours and intriguing colours due to traces of clay or iron-rich soil found in them. The subtle flavour differences and tangy bite of larger salt crystals may actually encourage consumers to sprinkle less of it on their fries and entrees, resulting in lower total sodium in take overall.
Soft, salty crystals are produced on the volcanic black sand of Bali’s eastern coastline, nestled under the shadow of Gunung Agung. They possess a gentle sweetness, which lingers and rolls around the tongue, infusing the body with high levels of natural minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc and iodine. Salt performs the essential function of maintaining the equilibrium of bodily fluids, a balance so critical to everyone living in the tropics.
For reasons unknown and under only certain conditions, salt crystals (taksu) can form hollow ‘four-sided pyramids’ as the water evaporates. This truly magical process cannot be manipulated or replicated. It simply happens when nature deems it appropriate. Coarse grain “hollow pyramid” crystals are the natural product of cool, windy days marking the end of the monsoon rains. Fragile crystals are gently scooped from the surface to dry in the exposed wind and sun. This traditional harvest creates crystals formed in miniature hollow pyramids that display a truly distinctive texture and subtle flavour like no other salt.
Sea salt is also a great purifier that dissipates negative energy. Some health enthusiasts wish to experience ‘sea salt soaks’ taken in a warm bath filled with tropical flowers. Sea salt is alkaline and therefore helps to lower the acidity of the body. The salt water penetrates the pores and is absorbed into the bloodstream, from there, salt helps to remove accumulated lactic acid in the body, which can build up in muscle tissue causing you to feel stiff and sore. Lactic acid becomes present in the body after strenuous workouts or heavy activity. In addition you may try a salt scrub, which is a formulation of salt and other ingredients used to exfoliate dead skin from the body, leaving fresh skin behind and nourishing that skin with herbal ingredients. The wonders of salt!
Original article here.