Organic sun dried and hand collected sea salt is consumed by perhaps 98% of the Philippine population. This naturally sourced salt usually has relatively large squarish crystals and ranges in color from grayish off white to almost white. It is usually a little damper than processed salt but the organic stuff comes chock full of important minerals such as sulfur, calcium and potassium. At the edge of several coastal towns in the Philippines you can spot salt flats that look like really shallow fishponds where sea water is made to evaporate (especially in the hottest of summer months) until salt crystals remain and these are scooped up into baskets and allowed to drain before they are packed in sacks and sent off to the market. I always wondered how they separated the salt crystals from the muddy bottoms until I went for a much closer lookâ€¦
On the way to the beach, I frequently pass a field of salt flats that are very close to a medium sized already brackish river emptying out to the South China Sea. The area is heavily populated and if I am not mistaken there are no sewage facilitiesâ€¦ hence the likelihood of fecal matter in the water being very real and somewhat disconcerting. Add to that the outflow of waters from nearby agricultural fields and you have to add insecticides and fertilizers to the brew. On closer inspection, it turns out that the salt flats are made of cement and tile, and about an inch or less of salt water is added to the cement flats and this is allowed to evaporate. The salt water has previously been passed through a series of ponds and is increasingly concentrated due to the effects of evaporation. After a day or so in intense sunshine, the salt crystals are gathered up and put in baskets to dry a little more. Apparently not much bacteria or other â€œbad stuffâ€ can thrive on pure salt so my fears of cooties are somewhat unfounded. But just the same, I would rather my salt come from cleaner surroundings.
Several years ago, I purchased some Guimaras salt for several times the cost of regular market salt on the belief that it came from cleaner waters. It was actually a little grayer than the Luzon salt but it tasted good and it pushed the pristine water angle. I have been unable to find it again and hope they are still in business. I have also at some time or another had several chi-chi salts in my pantry from the expensive English Maldon Sea Salt to French Fleur de Sel, Sel de Guerand, Kosher rock salts, etc., but I am really not that discerning enough to tell the difference in cooked food. For my own use to sprinkle on food before I eat it, I am partial to Maldon or French sea salt because the flakes are so light, almost ethereal and they taste shockingly pure. I do not like most processed salts that are bond paper white, pour easily and taste of iodine because all of the bleaching and processing. Iodine also makes them taste funny when compared to natural sea salt. If you have reached this far in the post and havenâ€™t fallen asleep yet, you may want to check out a chapter in one of Jeffrey Steingartenâ€™s books that has this incredible review of all the â€œbestâ€ salts in the worldâ€¦itâ€™s extremely interesting.