What Do You Know About Philippine Artisanal Salts?

What is Filipino food without salt? Salt is the essential seasoning that enhances flavors, preserves ingredients, and provides that distinctive savory taste that is at the heart of Filipino culinary traditions.

Around the world, salt comes in varied colors, flavors, and textures. Yes, there’s the Himalayan pink salt, the smoky Takesumi bamboo salt, and that delicate and flaky fleur de sel from France.

Now, if you think those are the only exotic varieties of salts we have, you’re definitely wrong. The Philippines, with its island territories literally surrounded by water, is recognized as one of the primary sources of premium culinary sea salts.

Philippine Artisanal Salts: Here’s What You Need to Know

Yes, salts do not share equal origins. They can be derived from various processes, sourced either from ocean extraction or mining seabed deposits. Conversely, artisanal salts are meticulously handcrafted using traditional techniques.

Now, what do you actually know about Philippine artisanal salts? Let’s explore these meticulously crafted yet relatively undiscovered treasures from the Filipino culinary world.

  1. Asin Tibuok (Bohol)

As salt was one of the earliest ways to preserve food, Albuquerque, Bohol’s food heritage is characterized by its smoky, bold, and fruity flavor. Compared to the usual salt used in the household, asin tibuok stays true to its name: it comes in a chunk, formed in a clay pot.

According to a report, asin tibuok is meticulously created by immersing dried coconut husks in coastal mangroves to soak in seawater for months. This extensive soaking ensures thorough salt saturation in the seawater. After this period, the soaked husks are sun-dried and then slowly incinerated until they transform into ash. This resulting ash is subsequently combined with additional seawater to produce a smoky brine. The mixture is then boiled in clay pots until it solidifies into a compact mass of salt.

  1. Sugpo Asin (Pangasinan)

Yet another renowned regional artisanal salt in the Philippines is known as Pangasinan’s sugpo asin. As the name implies, sugpo asin is created by converting prawn ponds into salt beds by channeling seawater into them during the dry season. Often compared to France’s fleur de sel, sugpo asin is characterized by its delicate sweetness and briny flavor profile.

  1. Duldul (Guimaras)

Commonly referred to as tultul or dokdok, this artisanal salt hails from the Philippines’ Mango Capital and is regarded as a substantial component of a dish rather than a mere seasoning, in contrast to most salts. Crafted into solid brick-like shapes, duldul is typically produced from December to May through a process involving the pouring of seawater over ashes from driftwood. This mixture is then strained and combined with coconut milk before being cooked to remove moisture. Once the process is complete, the salt is transferred indoors to cool and solidify, making it ready for culinary use.

  1. Asin sa Buy-o (Zambales)

In Central Luzon, a unique artisanal salt called asin sa buy-o is crafted in Botolan, Zambales. This salt is made by saturating collected sand with seawater and allowing it to dry during the day. It is then funneled into a large kawa, where seawater is once again added and continuously boiled until sea salt slowly forms. After careful collection and drying, the salt is packed into buy-o containers— cylindrical vessels woven from nipa palm leaves—for storage and distribution.

  1. Budbud (Iloilo)

This artisanal salt, produced in Miag-ao, is made by clearing a section of the beach, gathering large bamboo poles, and repeatedly sprinkling seawater onto the sand. After saturating the sand with salt from seawater, it’s transferred into sacks and then into a holding area. Extracts from the balunos vine are added to the liquid drained from the sand, which is then poured into cut bamboo poles and left to dry under the sun. Women, using a special bamboo scraper, are responsible for harvesting the final budbud salt from these dried poles.

In modern preparation, to meet safety standards, the salt is separated from the poles and roasted. Some innovative methods also incorporate lemongrass for added flavor. In a single day, salt makers can produce 30 to 50 kilograms of budbud salt, which is typically sold at a price ranging from P100 to P120 for a two-and-a-half-kilogram portion.

  1. Ted-ted (Ilocos Norte)

Largely obscure, this unique artisanal salt from Ilocos Norte is derived from the residual water produced during the creation of pasuquin salt. It emerges from what appears to be an unceasing process, gradually forming into a stalagmite-shaped mass of salt. After a period of two to three months, this solidified salt is subjected to grilling, intensifying its flavor. To enhance its palatability, local artisans often incorporate sukang Iloco. During challenging times, these salt makers turn to ted-ted as sustenance, enjoying it with rice to sustain themselves.

Despite being surrounded by abundant seawater, it’s disheartening to note that the Philippines currently imports 92% of its salt—a figure that could potentially rise to 96% by 2030, amounting to approximately 1.3 million metric tons, or P6.5 billion. In 2021, the nation held the 26th position among the world’s largest salt importers, primarily sourcing salt from countries like Australia, China, Mexico, Thailand, and New Zealand.

As Kabayan Representative Ron Salo puts it in the filed House Bill 1976, which hopes to reduce dependency on salt importation and become more self-sufficient in salt production: “The government must lead the way in stimulating the local salt industry by supporting artisanal salt farmers to mainstream their products in local and export markets… and effectively engage the private sector to leverage investments to ensure sustainability.”

The traditional techniques for crafting artisanal salts in the Philippines have typically been handed down from one generation to the next. Nonetheless, due to evolving times and the considerable labor involved in producing these salts, the younger generation exhibits minimal to no interest in continuing this age-old practice.

Nonetheless, it would be a tragedy to let these invaluable treasures of Philippine culture fade into obscurity. With their distinctive appearance, flavor, color, and texture, may Filipinos rediscover and preserve these artisanal salts, ensuring that their legacy endures for generations to come.

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