Salt is our most important flavor. It is the most ubiquitous seasoning; no food is arguably good without it. It is such a common occurrence to experience it that we forget — or maybe don’t care — about how it comes to be, from the earth to our tongues.
Before it became a staple on every table, salt was considered to be a prized mineral during the ancient times. In Ancient Rome, salt was worth its weight in gold, and was sometimes used to pay their legions. Salt became important to trading, and was transported in huge quantities by ship. Its importance sometimes led nations to enter wars; and apart from being used to enhance the flavor of food, salt is also used in certain religious ceremonies.
To understand its significance, one must learn the process of salt-making. The mineral is gathered in two ways: either by mining it to get halite or rock salt, or by evaporating large quantities of sea water. Either way, the process of procuring salt is long and arduous: while industrial processes have become more efficient, the traditional way — which farmers still use today — requires patience.
First, one must wait for the sea’s high tide. Then, the mud soil is gathered and put into a V-shaped contraption.
After this, the farmer will pour fresh water over the mud soil, which in turn dissolves the embedded sea salt.
The water is then gathered and boiled away in large steel pans, leaving behind only the finest natural sea salt.
It was over 120 years ago when Nicolas Camara, who had made his money from trading rice between the provinces of Zambales and Batangas, acquired a piece of land in May of 1888 where the salt beds we use today are situated. However, it wasn’t until the turn of the century that the land would be used to gather the mineral. In 1900, Nicolas’s son, Vicente, received a proposal from a group of local villagers: they wanted to convert a one-hectare mudflat area into a high-tide salt bed, which would provide a living for both the farmer and the landowner.
The small area was divided into 200-square meter plots, with each of the families — 50 of them — getting one 200-square meter plot to process into salt. This isn’t a story of oppressor and the oppressed, so of course, a partnership between Camara and the salt makers was agreed upon: the sharing of the salt harvest would be three-fourths for the salt maker, and one-fourth for the landowner.
Today, many of the salt makers are descendants of the original salt makers from the 1900s, and the land is still watched over and protected by the Camara family.