MAKING SALT IN PARADISE
Using the sun, wind and time, seawater is transformed into salt. Clean water and clean air are what Bonaireans say make their salt so good, with the sun, arid climate and gentle trade winds making the process relatively fast. It takes only two to three months from the time the seawater enters the salt flats until the salt crystals are ready for harvest.
While the salt pyramids of Bonaire, and their equally picturesque pastel colored salt ponds, are unmistakable to the visiting tourist, what is less appreciated is that these salt works are just the most recent manifestation of the Caribbean’s centuries-old salt trade. Salt, one of the most common minerals on earth and by weight among its least expensive, was, historically, at the center of a complex web of trade relations, especially from the mid-sixteenth century through the early nineteenth century, which had a profound effect on the history of the Caribbean and indirectly, even on the history of the original 13 colonies that would eventually form the nascent United States.
The Spanish arrived on Bonaire in 1499, and briefly settled the island. The discovery was a result of the “Andalusían Voyages” carried out between 1499 and 1502 by Alonso de Ojeda along the coast of Venezuela and Panama. Ojeda had accompanied Columbus on his second journey to the New World. The voyages were named for the fact that a large portion of the ship’s company came from the Spanish province of Andalucía in the southeast portion of Spain. That northwest corner of South America would eventually become the Spanish province of Nueva Andalucía.
They collected the naturally occurring salt deposits that were found along the low-lying southern shore of Bonaire—using the salt to preserve beef. At the time Spain was one of the largest producers of salt in the world, utilizing both saltpans along the Mediterranean coast and, in particular, a huge deposit of rock salt, called the Muntanya de Sal (Mountain of Salt) in Cardona, in Catalonia. The value of Spain's salt deposits in the fifteenth century exceeded the entire value of its gold and silver reserves. It was the Dutch, however, who would begin the Caribbean's salt industry, dominating the trade in salt for the better part of three centuries.
The Dutch were extensive users of salt due to their commercial interest in the Baltic herring and the North Sea cod fisheries. Both activities required large quantities of salt to preserve the fish catch. The revolt of the nine “northern provinces” and their organization into the Dutch republic under William of Orange in 1581, precipitated 80 years of warfare between the Dutch and the Spanish and cut Dutch merchants from their traditional supplies of Spanish salt. Salt was the number one commodity when the Dutch conquered Bonaire from the Spanish in 1636 and made it a plantation of the Dutch West India Company.
Looking for new sources of inexpensive salt, the Dutch found a veritable bonanza of salt in the Caribbean. They would go on to produce salt on all three of the Leeward Antilles, as well as on St. Martin and the other Dutch islands in the Lesser Antilles further east. It was Bonaire, however, that would be the center of the Dutch trade in salt. From the very beginning, Caribbean salt would be exported all over North America, as well as back to Europe.
From the mid-sixteenth through the early nineteenth century, Caribbean salt flowed north to the massive cod fisheries of Newfoundland’s Grand Banks and those of New England. Those fisheries, the single largest new source of animal protein in the world from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, required between 25,000 and 50,000 tons of salt per year. Salted cod, the cheapest form of protein available, flowed south and came to play a prominent role in the diet of slaves in Caribbean sugar plantations; especially during the West Indies sugar boom from the mid-seventeenth century through the beginning of the nineteenth century.
To this day, salted cod features prominently in the national cuisines of the islands of the West Indies even though cod is not native to the Caribbean and the closest cod fishery is 1,000 miles to the north of the West Indies. Dishes like Green Fig and Salt Fish, the national dish of St. Lucia, or Salted Cod Fish Cake in Barbados, have long been staples of local diets. Indeed, what was once dismissed as being of little value is now at the center of a Caribbean nouvelle cuisine that looks to integrate traditional West Indies cuisine, with a modern “culinary fusion” inspired menu.
Ingredients: 100% Caribbean Sea Salt
About the Product
•Packaged in a stand-up, resealable bag for your convenience.
•Available in a 1-ounce sampler size, 2 ounces, 4 ounces or 8 ounces (1/2 pound) in both coarse and fine grains.
•Enjoy the Spice of Life!