Salt has been a vital natural resource for thousands of years.
Cádiz was founded some 3,000 years ago and salt has always figured large in it’s history. The Phoenicians bartered minerals and other items for the salt and carried it all over the Mediterranean. However, it was during Roman times that the salt industry really grew. Salt was indispensable. It was used to make payments such as wages (hence ‘salary’), became as important as actual coinage and known as ‘white gold’. The Roman Empire was spread and maintained by an enormous army and the Empire needed salt for it’s men all over the known world. At one stage salt production was nationalised by the Romans in order to guarantee steady supplies and avoid price fluctuation.
Salt in Cádiz was used in preserving food and in the manufacture of garum, a fermented fish sauce used as a prized condiment by wealthier Romans that was extremely valuable and few were able to afford.
Traditional salt pans still exist in Cádiz and are found mainly in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Puerto Real, San Fernando or Chiclana de la Frontera. The Iptuci salt pans in Prado del Rey are one of the very few working salt pans to be found inland.
The quality of the salt stems from three basics – the Atlantic Ocean, the high number of hours of sunlight and the easterly wind, which speeds evaporation. The salt pans and the marshes are visited by thousands of migratory birds as they travel to and from Africa. The sun seems to shine all the time in the ‘Costa de la Luz’ (The Coast of Light) and the local people and nature-loving tourists enjoy the marshes, salt pans and the birds as they look out over the Bay of Cádiz. The salt, without any additives or colouring is a completely natural product.
La Flor de Sal (loosely translated as ‘The Flower of Salts’) in considered to be the best sea salt in the world. The Atlantic is the largest and cleanest ocean and this contributes to the quality. It is a rare ‘gourmet’ ingredient and is sought after by the best restaurants in the world and all who enjoy good food. La Flor de Sal is produced exclusively by skilled artisans. The first crystals form on the water under the intense heat of the sun and, instead of sinking to the bottom of the salt pan, float on the surface, forming a fine crystalline layer or Flor de Sal. It is quickly collected with a special rake known as a ‘lousse’, handled by workers who have taken years to acquire the skill. A completely natural product that bears no comparison to industrially produced salt, it is a versatile product, useful in any dish that calls for coarse salt as a flavour enhancer. It can be used with any meat, fish or salad and even in desserts
Another gourmet product, seaweed, contains high levels of minerals and vitamins, yet with a negligible percentage of fat. Very commonly used in the Far East, seaweed is considered a delicacy and is used in various dishes to impart a touch of the flavour of the sea. The seaweeds found in the Bay of Cádiz are Ulva, Enteromorpha, Gracilaria, Salicornia ramosissima.
Seaweed can be used for a main course, in salads or stews, but is mainly used to accompany fish and shellfish. It is a perfect condiment for fish-based rice dishes, stews and broths. Dehydrated, seaweed offers a unique ‘touch of the sea’ to sauces and grilled white meat.