Himalayan rock salt is well-known. However, few people are familiar with the other big source of non-sea salt in the world: Sal de Maras (salt from Maras). The pink salt, harvested in the Peruvian Andes, is increasingly appreciated in Peru as well as by its foreign visitors. Add it to your shopping list when visiting the Sacred Valley and you'll have some original (and sought-after) gifts when you get home!
Some 45 kilometers north of Cusco, at almost 3400 meters altitude, lies a canyon with an eye-catching terrace with more than 4,000 interlocking salt evaporation ponds (pozos), called Las Salineras. About half of the shallow pools date from Inca times and they're run by some 380 families that are united in cooperatives.
From a hot spring, water is led through a maze of channels that meander among the pools, which are closed off with a piece of cloth or plastic when they're full. The ponds are filled with grayish/brown water that needs about a month to evaporate. The result is white pools that glisten like snow in the sun. When the white ponds are ready to be harvested, the salt crystals are scraped off.
This sounds simpler than it is as the salt is harvested in three distinct layers:
- Flor de sal, literally ‘flower of salt’ (or better known as fleur de sel), is the top layer, the fine culinary salt that is the most expensive. It's gourmet salt, not used for cooking but to be added as the finishing touch to your dish.
- Sal rosada is the pale pink, thicker salt that is prime quality salt for cooking and barbecuing.
- The third layer isn’t edible. You can use this so-called sal de baño for medicinal baths, for example to relax your muscles. According to the local people sal de baño has curative properties.