From land to sea, the lust for salt has not once been satiated. The desire for the small white gem has been hardwired into our anatomies and become essential for our health. It has been the cause of contentious battles and a means for taking control in Empires long since crumbled. Its tread the course for interconnecting road networks and paved the path for civilizations centuries in the making. The impact of salt in times not too distant and the considerable impact the mineral still has on our health is impossible to ignore. But how did this minuscule mineral, once the cause of combat due to its antiquated esteem, become the ubiquitous table topper we know today? How also did Aegean Naturals manage to produce a salt that not alone retains its healthful characteristics but also bucks the trend of salt as a deleterious seasoning for our wellbeing?
Societal origins can be traced back using the same animal tracks that led to the nearest salt lick.
The people who followed these tracks searching for meat made trails. Those trails then became roads. Not long after settlements were erected beside the mineral beds and societies formed. Such is the origin of ancient societies. Necessity and proximity. The salt that hunter-gatherers consumed came from animal meat, the animals ingesting the mineral as brine, and through cross-consumption man would hit his quota of salt. When human grazing patterns changed from salt-rich game to cereals due to the emergence of agrarian societies the salt that once supplemented their diet through natural means needed to be replaced with the real deal. It was during this time that salt processing methods started to mature and post-industrialization never looked back!
Salt processing has come on leaps and bounds since industrialization. The processes once used to extract salt from numerous sources have long since been updated, and while newer machinery means ease of attainment, old practices diehard and antiquated techniques remain the reference point for modern means. Today, much of the same processes are used to obtain salt from the earth but on a much grander scale, with artificial and non-artificial habitats enhanced to ensure premium results. The three main processes that exist today are rock salt mining, solution mining, and brine evaporation.
Rock Salt Mining
Rock salt as opposed to the mineral salt one finds on their table is a rock (seems quite obvious) and while these distinctions perhaps seem redundant there are a few characteristics of rock salt that separate the rock from its finer neighbour – and a few characteristics that make them just the same.
Rock salt can be found all across the world. Plentiful deposits are bordering dried-up lake beds, inland marginal seas, and enclosed basins, but the lion’s share of rock salt we find today comes from large bodies of water that once evaporated and made enormous deposits of rock salt. These deposits were later buried beneath marine sediments and because halite (the geological name for rock salt) is less dense than the marine materials that buried it, the salt beds penetrate the marine sediments and create domed structures. These domed structures were later buried beneath additional sediments and sealed underground – and therein lies the need for manoeuvring.
Rock salt was first found in Winsford Cheshire in the mid eighteen hundreds. Local prospectors had been searching for coal and instead came upon vast networks of interconnecting white veins that lined the walls of an uncharted hollow. The local prospectors understood at once the gold mine (salt mine) they had stumbled upon and set about discovering ways to extract their find.
Rock mining methods during this time were still rudimentary, the miners undertaking the backbreaking labour with hand picks and shovels; a decent dose of black powder explosives was used to blow the rock from its surrounding structure and it wasn’t until the twentieth century that electrical lights replaced loose candles jammed into the sediment, illuminating the rock face, and emerging methods lessened the labour of underground mining.
Rock salt mining today (again as the name suggests) is an underground process with the salt being dug from the ground. The same procedures that had been used in the Cheshire mines are utilized today, but instead of handpicks and shovels there are enormous terrain vehicles with magnificent mechanical arms that operate inside the underground rock. The domes that rest beneath the earth can originate from depths of 40,000 meters - and while new ways allow for greater efficiency in extraction, continually greater depths require increased ingenuity.
For rock salt miners to enter the mine there is a shaft that descends fathoms deep from the surface to the salt bed. There can be dual shafts; one for personnel and the other for materials and equipment, also used for hoisting the rock back towards the surface. Fresh air is pumped down the shafts as the miners work, the room and pillar method acting as their guide and indicating where and how the rock should be extracted. During this method, there is a checkerboard pattern cut into the rock where the mineral is removed and large pillars of solid salt are left untouched to support the mine roof. Usually, 65 percent of the salt is removed and the height of the room can soar beyond a hundred feet in a domed deposit. To remove rock salt through blasting a section of the mine floor is cut ten feet deep right at the base of the wall. From there small holes are drilled the same distance apart along the salt wall; the small holes are filled with ammonium nitrate and detonated so the desired materials can collect in the deep trench. Equipment is used thereafter to load and haul the salt onto machines that crush and feed the end material through a conveyor belt that places the rock into a storage bin waiting to be brought to the surface. The rock salt that makes it to the surface can be thanked for gritting our snow-strewn roads and iced paths in the Winter!
White Salt Production
White salt production, otherwise known as solution mining, is the most common process of extracting salt intended for the dinner table. The process has been traced back almost eight thousand years to China and Romania and entails pumping water into underground salt deposits to create a brine that pushes the salt to the surface to be treated and separated from the accompanying liquids.
For solution mining, a large hole is drilled into underground deposits where raging waters can dissolve solid salt beds and turn them into salvageable brine. The brine is funnelled to the surface using gargantuan pumps and taken to a purification centre so that the calcium, magnesium and other impurities can be removed and the brine evaporation process can begin.
The brine evaporation process is methodical. The salt solution is transported through a series of tubes while building steam chases its progress. The solution soon settles in a large chamber and in an adjoining chamber the steam gathers and continues to build in temperature until the brine is boiled. The heating of the brine produces more steam and thickens the solution just enough before it is transported to a second chamber. This chamber then uses the steam generated from the first and the pressure required to boil the brine becomes progressively lower as the solution is pushed from chamber to chamber until the desired result is attained. From there the final iteration of the salt crystals are fed into a rotating centrifuge that spins the excess moisture from the mineral and transfers the salt to be dried for the journey to come – right onto your kitchen table!
Aegean Naturals benefit from the abundance of white gold that lines their coasts. In the past, the Grecian relationship with salt expanded beyond culinary, preservatory, and even medicinal usage and waded into the waters of divine interpretation as salt was thrown onto flames during new moon ceremonies and the crackling that resulted from searing the mineral was intended to prompt an offering to the gods.
In ancient Greece, there was even a common saying that, ‘no one should trust a man without first eating a peck of salt with him.’
The meaning behind the phrase being that if you would not share your salt with an individual, you could not trust them. Salt in ancient Greece formed a fundamental part of trade and strengthened the coastal economies as the mineral was transported aboard ships across the Mediterranean Sea to the Phoenicians and the Egyptians. The mineral-rich salt found along Grecian shores was renowned for its impactful, natural flavor, the combination and abundance of magnesium and calcium in the salt imbuing it with a distinct palate.
The method used by Aegean Naturals today, although modernized and optimized through extensive practice is one grounded in tradition. Solar evaporation is the oldest method of salt processing and has been used since salt crystals were first noticed in trapped pools of seawater. The method's practicality extends
mainly to warmer climates, where the evaporation rate exceeds the precipitation rate either annually or for extended periods and where there are steady prevailing winds. For Aegean Naturals their salt is sourced from the depths of the Aegean Sea, away from the shores, from areas with strong underground currents where the sole influences on salt picked are entirely natural and not marred by outside pollutants. This especially clean raw material is then transferred into a meticulously controlled environment on the Aegean production site, where it is condensed and crystallized under the power of the sun. What is ultimately produced is a salt that follows nature’s recipe and methodology, free from any treatment or refining, additives or artificial flavourings. The salt is rich in magnesium, calcium, and zinc, and fortified with the natural ingredients that are essential for continued health.
Whereas treated salt is stripped of its beneficial minerals (calcium, magnesium…) Aegean Naturals’ salt retains its greatest traits, ensuring that the healthful components of the untreated mineral remain intact. Aegean sea salt contains the perfect balance of sodium and potassium making sure your body can optimize hydration; as the water in your body follows sodium while the potassium regulates water flow making sure our fluids remain in harmony and we stay energized throughout the day. The minerals found in salt are also of great importance as we cannot produce them ourselves, so it is imperative to remain mindful of what you put in your body, in what quantities and from what sources they come. Once our bodies are aligned, and armed with all it needs for ideal regulation we can expect improved nervous systems that jumpstart the electrical conduction from brain to muscle to grey matter making us indefatigable in all we set our sights on. Plus, if one is to remain mindful of where their salt comes from, they can expect improved sleep as the electrolytes found in untreated salt also regulate hormones and aid us in getting our eight hours – or maybe more! The benefits of sourcing your salt from a reliable source are far-reaching – we sleep better, find ourselves to be less thirsty, hungry, and more satisfied after every meal – and Aegean Natural’s diverse range of natural salt can cater for everyone’s tastes.