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The Bay of Cadiz has historically been the most important sea salt-producing center in the Spanish Atlantic coast. Salt production in the marismas or albinas - lands flooded by the tides - has a long and intense history. It is not possible to rigorously define when it began, but there is evidence dating back to ancient times. This area attracted civilizations like the Tartesians, Phoenicians and Romans to obtain salt. Small salt mines were created where, owing to the action of the constant winds from the east or west, the evaporation of water was facilitated. In times of the Phoenicians and Romans, salt extraction was closely tied to industry of salted fish, especially the development of a seasoning called garum.

In the Spanish-Muslim times, Cadiz salt was widely consumed in all Al-Andalus, and its use was also closely linked to fishing by the almadrabas trap system, carried out on the Atlantic coast. Once these lands were reconquered by the Christians, they continued to provide salt to the Kingdom of Granada, until its demise in the late 15th century.

When possession of the salt mines was passed on to the Crown of Castile, its legislation stated that the territories covered by sea water "belonged to all" and, therefore, the Crown had the power to grant favors to its subjects for their exploitation. Thus, during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, the salt from Cadiz lay  in the hands of nobles, clergy, municipalities and individuals. The Crown intervened only to collect the excise duty on the sale of the product, the sales tax. The salt of Cadiz, in addition to meeting local needs, was sent to Galicia and the Cantabrian Sea fisheries, and the Kingdom of Granada, and it was also exported in large quantities

Salt was loaded under close surveillance of the Renta de Salinas (an institution under the Treasury of the time), in order to prevent fraud. It was loaded onto small boats of various types and was transported through pipes to larger ships anchored in the Bay of Cadiz. During the 18th century, the estanco on salt, or income that the State reserved for the monopoly of its exploitation, was strengthened. Of all retrained incomes, the one on salt was the oldest and the one that generated most income for the Royal Treasury. In the 18th century there were some 70 salinas, or natural salt mines in the Bay of Cadiz, a number that increased to over 130 a century later. In 1869, the State’s monopoly over Cadiz salt drew to a close, completely liberating salt production and marketing from then on.

Far into the 19th century, there was a kind of salt “boom”, with about 80% of production exported to other countries, especially South and North America, as well as northern Europe. To protect their interests, producers of the Bay of Cadiz created a cartel in the late 19th century, called the Concierto General de Cosecheros de Sales (General Agreement of Salt Harvesters). However, from the first quarter of the 20th century, Cadiz salt production went into recession.

There are several reasons for this decline, linked to a major collapse in demand: on one hand, with the discovery of the conservation system of canned goods and the development of refrigerated vessels, the use of salt linked to the preservation of meat and fish plummeted; on the other, a growing competition originated from countries that traditionally had been clients. Many of the salt mines from Cadiz were closed; their facilities, many of them in ruins, are part of the landscape with an air of nostalgia that the Bay of Cadiz now has.

However, in recent years there has been a movement bringing renewed value to specialized salts, and with it, a widespread appreciation for Flor de Sal (Fleur de Sel) from Cadiz. The phenomenon has served to boost the activity in a number of the natural salt mines that either managed to survive the decline, or have re-launched their activity with new business models.

Flor de Sal (Fleur de Sel)

Flor de Sal, or Fleur de Sel, is considered the highest quality salt in the world. Depending on the sea or ocean whose coastline it is obtained in, there will be significant differences in color, flavor, texture and aroma. Atlantic origin Fleur de Sel is the most valued by experts; it provides the properties of a cleaner ocean than enclosed seas, and a more subtly flavored product, because these waters are rich in trace elements such as iodine, calcium, iron or magnesium. Among these fine salts is the Flor de Sal from the Bay of Cadiz.

The artisan salt mines behave as a cleaning filter, extracting from seawater only the most beneficial elements and eliminating heavy metals and other contaminants, leaving clean hyper-saline water, rendering the highest quality salt. Cadiz Fleur de Sel is obtained in a completely artisan way, and harvested from late June to September - when it is hottest - by controlled evaporation of seawater in the natural salt mines. This evaporation produces the first sodium chloride crystals, some of which remain on the surface rather than settling to the bottom. Quickly, the thin film that forms - about one centimeter thick - must be collected. This is usually done at dusk, by the light of the moon, using a tool that is like a rake without spikes, called “louse”, and managed by expert hands.

Fleur de Sel is one hundred percent natural and has no additives of any kind. It is a scarce commodity, with a delicate flavor that is subtly reminiscent of violets. Its crystals are bright white and dissolve to the touch. The layer where the Fleur de Sel originates is similar to the ice coating formed on the surface of some icy seas. Hence, this salt is also known in the Bay of Cadiz and “Ice Salt”.

Its composition, different from industrial salt, and the fact that it is slightly moist, ensure a lower purity of sodium chloride and larger presence of essential elements such as iron salts, calcium or natural iodine, all beneficial, both for health and to the palate.

The offer of this product in Cadiz is full of innovative proposals that combine the Fleur de Sel with spices like pepper; there is also smoked Fleur de Sel, or flavored with products such as Manzanilla from Sanlúcar, or Salicornia, a very valuable plant that grows around the salinas, among others... The range of options is under continuous development, to the delight of the most discerning palates.

Culinary Uses

Fleur de Sel is very versatile in the kitchen and can be added to almost any dish that requires a touch of salt, with the advantage that its taste is much more elegant and delicate, and that it enhances the natural flavors of the raw materials used. It is magnificent in grilled or roasted meats and fish, but also in salads of all kinds, vegetable dishes, foie gras, mushrooms, pasta, carpaccio, game meats... even in fruits and desserts! The combinations and flavored variations of Fleur de Sel that are being developed with other natural products leave a wide open door to the culinary combinations in the imagination of any experienced or amateur cook.

 
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