There are a number of salt types used in kitchens around the world. There’s kosher salt, Himalayan pink salt, celtic grey sea salt, fleur de sel, flake salt, red/black Hawaiian salt and so on. Here in the Philippines, there are different salt varieties as well, and they’re produced in different parts of the country.
Apart from rock salt, which most of us are familiar with, there are kinds unique to us, such as the duldul from Guimaras, sugpo asin from Pangasinan, asin tibu-ok from Bohol, and Asin sa Buy-o from Zambales. Each of these salts lend a different nuance of taste to dishes we’ve become familiar with.
What’s currently ubiquitous in grocery stores, however, is the iodized salt. This is thanks to the ASIN Law or the Act for Salt Iodization Nationwide which was passed in 1995 to combat the micronutrient malnutrition in the country, particularly iodine deficiency disorders. The law required manufacturers to iodize the salt they produced, which is basically fortifying the humble table salt with iodine. Suffice it to say this has greatly impacted our local salt-making industry.
The popular food vlogger Erwan Heussaff recently featured the Asin sa Buy-o in a video documentary. An artisanal salt, he likens it to the rare and expensive fleur de sel of France. “It's perfect as a finishing salt and has a nice fluffy texture to it,” Erwan says in an Instagram post. “It is made in salt pans where sea water naturally evaporates (these are called solar salts). What sinks to the bottom is regular sea salt, while the crystals that float to the top are the ‘flower’ or fleur.”
In comparison, producing Zambales’ Asin sa Buy-o, as seen in the FEATR video, entails a long and arduous process. The saltmakers first line a large wooden strainer, or tatabagan, with seawater-infused mud that comes from the mangroves—this procedure filters out the saltwater. The liquid is then cooked and stirred continuously to create a pure fine sea salt rich with minerals. Finally, the salt is then packed in a Buy-o, a woven basket made from pawid or palm, bamboo and rattan.
Currently, the Asin sa Buy-o is produced by the locals in the Panayunan community at the Sambali Beach Farm in Zambales. According to the women saltmakers in the FEATR video, the tradition was passed on to them by their ancestors since they were children. Saltmaking had since become a primary source of livelihood for them.
Producing Asin sa Buy-o takes a lot of handwork. “Nakita nyo naman po kung papaano namin ginawa. Napakahirap po talaga,” says Nanay Editha, one of the saltmakers now entering her twilight years. “Talagang pagod po, pawis po talaga. Nasa tao nga po iyan. Pero napakalaki pong tulong.”
The older folks now fear that Asin sa Buy-o would soon be a forgotten culinary gem as only a handful of saltmakers are left in the Panayunan community. Many younger people are already seeking opportunities elsewhere.
But thanks to Sambali Beach Resort owner Ching Camara and Ritual PH, many are again rediscovering this artisanal salt of Zambales. With more orders coming in, the younger generation are starting to learn the tradition.
“Lots of salt farmers were unintentionally affected due to lack of resources needed to comply with the iodization requirement,” says Erwan. “From almost 100 percent self-sufficiency in salt, we went down to 20 percent. Today, we import 91 to 93 percent of our requirement. Not only did many farmers lose their livelihoods, but the country also lost a chunk of its culinary culture.”
Before this feature on the Asin sa Buy-o, Erwan also put together a story on the tibuok salt from Bohol. With his efforts in putting the spotlight on our heritage salts, here’s hoping we could save them and the salt-making traditions from totally disappearing while helping the local saltmakers improve their livelihood.