Over 200 million years ago, a great ocean covered a valley in Spain. Eventually rocks began to rise, pulling other materials like loam and clay with it in a process called “diapiro.” As rain fell through layers of rock and salt, the layers rose, creating springs with a 210-gram per liter salt concentration. Evaporation separates the salt from the water, allowing it to be harvested. Unfortunately, this precious salt was almost lost due to overharvesting.
In the Middle Ages, people lived and worked in this salt valley in southwest Spain’s Basque Country. They harvested the salt sustainably for hundreds of years, but in the mid-1990’s, workers began to focus more on profit. Jobs were lost and the old ways abandoned. In 2009, the Valle Salada de Anana Foundation began its plan to save the area and the salt. They were given full ownership of the valley and in 2017, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations named the area a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS).
There are four types of salt produced in El Valle Salado. Salt crystals from the springs are about as pure as you can get in terms of taste and minerals. Liquid spring salt is concentrated by workers to a 280-gram per litre ratio. This salty spray is used for salads, fish, and meat. Chuzo, or salt stalactites, are formed when brine leaks from salt-pans, channels, and other structures in the valley. The most prized salt from the area, however, is the crust that forms on top of the water during evaporation. It’s called a “flower” salt because of the natural designs that appear on top of the salt-pans. Very flat and crunchy, Basque chefs use it to finish everything from simple vegetable dishes to steak.