Sal Rosada from Maras
When someone mentions pink salt, I tend to always think about the curing sort, with sodium nitrite. But finishing salts do come in all colors – black, pink, red, grey – and this pink salt I happened to pick up while I was exploring Peru. A lot of times during my spice stories I talk about unique ingredients and their extraordinary flavor. This salt I wanted to share with you more for the story and the experience it represented for me, less for its individual influence on cooking.
To me pink salt is pink salt and perhaps my palate is just not developed enough. My understanding is that the reason for (any) color in salt is due to the lack of a refining process, and so salts mainly differ in mineral content, size and shape of crystals, intensity and the way they disperse in foods. One exception I know to that is kala namak or black salt from India – this type has a distinct, sulphurous taste that makes it easily identifiable.
In the Sacred Valley, near a town called Maras, I visited these salt-evaporation ponds that the locals all referred to as salt mines. Here’s a photo – and it can’t quite do it justice. I was blown away by the site (it’s massive and intense) and particularly the fact that these have been in use from the Inca times, a way of capturing salt from a nearby, super-salty spring. I literally put my hand in the stream and minutes later my hand had dried with a thorough dusting of salt on it. The pans need only natural evaporation for the gorgeous salt crystals to form.
What I loved was how the ponds help support the locals according to people I spoke with from the area. Some of the pools have been passed on for generations; each family owns and harvests its own salt though it’s usually sold through the coop that manages the ponds. One thing is for sure – labor cost isn’t figured in…Carrying those heavy bags of salt at that altitude and that distance would be no joke!