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Salt of Maras: The Purest Salt in the World

Vespa's recipes have appeared in "Midwest Living" and "Taste of Home." She belongs to Cook's Recipe Testers for "Cook's Illustrated."


Peruvian Pink Sea Salt is One of the Purest

Nestled in the Sacred Valley near Cusco, Maras is birthplace of ancient inland sea salt deposits. Blanketing the hillside like the squares of a patchwork quilt, salty pools evaporate under the Andean sun. Some look like nothing more than mud puddles. In other pools, where the sun and wind have already done their job, rock salt lies in glistening heaps like the legendary treasures of Aladdin’s cave.

What’s all the hype about sea salt? As the oceans become more and more polluted, inland salt deposits are sought by naturalists and foodies alike. Chefs the world over seek artisanal salts for the perfect finishing touch to gourmet foods. But what’s so special about the salt of Maras, or Andean pink salt as it’s often called?

We recently returned from our annual pilgrimage to Cusco, Peru with our bags full of this unrefined mineral salt. It didn't take long for us to appreciate why this salt so valued. But first, let’s consider the history of salt and why we need it, the advantage of artisanal salt over table salt and finally, the culinary uses of Andean or Peruvian pink salt.

Andean Salt

Andean Salt

Salt is Essential for Life

Salt, our body’s most important electrolyte, is essential to life. Sodium is necessary for proper nerve and muscle function and to maintain blood pressure levels. A lack of salt can cause hyponatremia, a condition which leads to confusion, lethargy, nausea and muscle twitches.

Of course, salt should be enjoyed in moderate. Due to the overconsumption of packaged and fast foods in today's society, many have learned the hard way that an excessively salty diet can lead to conditions such as hypertension. But a sodium-saturated diet is a relatively recent problem. Join us now as we consider the history of salt.

Table of Contents

  • Salt in History

  • Table Salt vs. Sea Salt

  • Culinary Uses

  • Amazon Capsules: Where to Buy Pure Sea Salt

  • Recipes With Sea Salt & Peruvian Recipes

block salt

block salt

Salt in History

“Heaven knows, a civilized life is impossible without salt.” ~Pliny

A peek into history drives home the truthfulness of Pliny's words. In the 15th century, the ability to preserve fish with salt allowed European explorers to leave comfortable coastal homes and strike out for new horizons. This led to the “discovery” of the Americas. And food historian Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat speculates it would have changed the entire course of Christianity if the Romans had not been sufficiently interested in the salt of the Dead Sea to colonize Palestine.

Have you ever said that someone is “worth his salt”? Historians suggest that the saying dates back to ancient Rome where soldiers were paid for their work in salt, or "salarium". The English word “salary” was derived from the Latin word "salarium". So when you say someone is worth his salt, you mean that he is worth the wage he earns.

Clearly, salt was once a rare and treasured commodity. What developments led to the sodium-saturated diet of modern times?

white, pink and tawny salts

white, pink and tawny salts

Table Salt vs. Sea Salt

Fast-forward to the Industrial Age. Salt, or sodium chloride, became mass produced. Instead of hand-mining, salt was produced chemically and refined until no trace minerals remained. Today's market is dominated by such lifeless, additive-filled salt.

Sea salt such as Andean pink is still hand-harvested and unrefined. Chock full of over 80 trace minerals such as iron oxide, magnesium, calcium and potassium, the salt varies in color from pearlescent white to tawny beige to pale rose. Since the crystals are hand-washed and dried in the sun, they have high moisture content.

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Once you taste artisanal sea salt there’s no going back to ordinary salt. Unlike table salt's bitter aftertaste, sea salt yields a pure crunch and explosion of mild saltiness. And Andean salt crystals are some of the rarest, most unprocessed and unpolluted in the world. Glistening like jewels, they imbue the dinner table with a beauty that can only be fully appreciated in person.

There is one caveat. Table salt is iodized to supply the iodine necessary for a healthy thyroid. Sea salt is not. In some areas of the world, such as Peru, the soil is iodine-poor. When a diet is deficient in iodine and non-iodized salt is consumed, goiter can become a problem. So if you're unsure whether you receive enough iodine in your diet, use iodized salt while cooking and sea salt only as a finishing touch.

sea salt

sea salt

Culinary Uses

Gourmet chefs often prefer salt from a particular region for the unique flavor and crunch it adds to meat, steamed veggies and pasta. We happen to love Andean pink, both for its availability in our neck of the woods and its delightful flavor and texture. Although sea salt can be added during cooking, as a finishing salt it shines like the North Star. Lightly sprinkle atop food right before serving and your tongue will perceive the texture, minerality and moisture that makes this salt so special.

Coarse sea salts are great for rubbing and tenderizing meat before roasting or grilling. If you are able to get larger crystals, why not purchase a grinder? Always use a salt mill with ceramic or plastic grinding mechanisms as metal grinders will corrode over time. If you find a larger block of artisanal salt, why not try grating it onto foods? It will add an elegant and interesting touch to the dinner table and become the ideal conversation piece.

Sea salt isn't limited to savory foods. Salted chocolate has recently gained popularity in the United States and salted caramels were perfected long ago in Europe. Fleur de sel, a beautiful artisanal salt of Brittany, is sprinkled on caramels in a way that preserves its crunchy texture. If you'd like to see what all the hype is about and try either of these sweet and salty confections, please see recipe capsules at the end of this article.

How is Salt Mined in Maras?

The Maras mine has been in operation since before the Incan empire. Pools are owned and maintained by members of the local community. No modern machinery is involved in the harvest, just rocks to divert springwater and the strong backs of country folk who extract the glistening treasure.

Processed crystals contain trace minerals and vary in color from white to pink to tawny beige. Unlike bitter table salt, Maras salt delights with a clean crunch and mildly briny aftertaste. Some of Lima´s restaurants offer this salt to season their creations. In your excursions around the city, why not savor a pile of crunchy French fries sprinkled with salt of Maras?

Homemade Butter Caramels with Himalayan Pink Salt

Homemade Butter Caramels with Himalayan Pink Salt

Dark Chocolate Bark with Carmelized Nuts & Andean Pink Salt

Dark Chocolate Bark with Carmelized Nuts & Andean Pink Salt

Blondies with Chocolate Chips & Salted Caramel

Blondies with Chocolate Chips & Salted Caramel

Try These Recipes:

Homemade Butter Caramels with Pink Sea Salt

Dark Chocolate Bark With Carmelized Nuts & Pink Sea Salt

Chewy Blondies With Chocolate Chips & Salted Caramel

Chicha Morada: Peruvian Purple Corn Drink That Fights Inflammation


Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on December 10, 2012:

Jaydene, it really is a fascinating subject and an interesting and beautiful site to visit. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for coming by!

jaydene from Alberta, Canada on December 10, 2012:

I recall seeing a t.v. show on this area and the salt there. It was sure fascinating. You have provided a lot of interesting information in this page I really enjoyed this. thank you :)

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on October 05, 2012:

Alocsin, I really like that pink sea salt is from an uncontaminated and ancient source. We don't need any more chemicals in our diet these days! Thanks's always nice to hear from you.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on October 04, 2012:

So this is the source of some of your inspired recipes. I'm assuming it's not sold in stores here in the U.S. Otherwise, it's something I'd definitely like to try. Voting this Up and Interesting.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on October 02, 2012:

Moonlake, I found artisanal salts so fascinating and delicious. Thank you for the vote, comment and share!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on October 02, 2012:

UknownSpy, I've never made salt myself, either! I do like this Andean pink salt because it's from an ancient and unpolluted source. I know you'd appreciate that. : ) Thanks so much for your comment.

moonlake from America on October 02, 2012:

Very interesting hub. I use different salts in my kitchen but didn't know about this salt. Voted uP! Shared.

DragonBallSuper on October 02, 2012:

sea salt is very popular here. anybody living in areas near the sea knew how to make salt..but i never tried it though. Enjoyed reading this!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on October 02, 2012:

Peggy W, these salts are best for finishing. They add a nice crunchy texture and visual appeal, too. I'm glad you enjoyed reading about it. Thank you for the vote, comment and share!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 01, 2012:

This hub about the Peruvian pink salt was most interesting! We recently purchased some grey salt and more sea salt. For most purposes we use iodized salt...but these others are a nice addition just like certain herbs and spices perk up some dishes. I found this hub to be fascinating. Up votes and sharing.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on September 03, 2012:

Molometer, thanks so much for your meaningful and well-written comment. Maldon salt is delicious, but I had no idea it comes from the River Thames! Yes, I would definitely steer clear because of the pollution problem. We have such an abundance of Andean salt that I wish I could send some your way. How interesting the Bedouin still trade salt. I really appreciate the votes and share.

Micheal from United Kingdom on September 03, 2012:

This is like history repeating. I foresee a 'salt rush' to the Andes at these prices. As you mentioned salt was as good as currency in Roman times. The Bedouin have traded salt for millenia in the Sahara and still do.

Really enjoyed reading this well put together hub. You earned your salary with this one.

We do get a salt from the River Thames of all places. Maldon Salt. It is expensive but has a much better crunch and taste.

Not sure I want to use it now considering the pollution. I must try some of the Pink Sea Salt.

All the votes and sharing.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on August 26, 2012:

LetitiaFT, European salts are well-known the world over. This salt really is delicious, though, and ancient. It goes back to the Jurassic period and is sought after by those who need uncontaminated salts for therapeutic purposes. It's nice to hear from you! Have you been busy with other projects?

LetitiaFT from Paris via California on August 26, 2012:

I didn't realize there were trace minerals in unrefined salt. I wonder if that accounts for the superior flavor too? Here in France sea salt is collected in different areas and ranges from grey on the Atlantic to white on the Mediterranean. I'm hooked on the salt flakes from the crust that forms when they heap it up, but I'm open to trying other tasty salts, and this sure looks to be one!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on August 08, 2012:

Melch-i-zedek, it is a wonderful salt to have in the kitchen. I hope you have the chance to try it someday. Thanks so much for the vote and comment!

Darth Vader from the Outer Rim on August 08, 2012:

Thank you for this great Hub, Vespa! If only I had known about the difference between sea salt and table salt (let alone Andean pink salt) a month ago, when some friends visited the Peruvian Andes. I would have asked them to procure some of it, as I can imagine it's not easy to come by Andean salt here in Eastern Europe. Anyway, after reading your Hubs I will definitely try out sea salt. Voted up and across.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on August 07, 2012:

Bdegiulio, I'm glad you learned something new today! Andean pink is also called Peruvian pink sometimes. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on August 07, 2012:

Great Hub. Had never heard of Andean Pink Sea Salt before. Was also not aware that there is such a big difference between table salt and sea salt. I learned something new today. Thank you.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on August 07, 2012:

Billybuc, I'm glad you enjoyed the information and that you already use sea salt. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 07, 2012:

This was fascinating! I have heard of sea salt of course; we use it all the time. However, I have never heard of this variety. Thank you for the education....great info!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on August 07, 2012:

Ttoombs08, it's nice to know someone who also appreciates the value of sea salt! Thanks for taking the time to red and comment.

Terrye Toombs from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. on August 07, 2012:

What interesting information on pink salt. I threw out the table salt and switched to sea salt a long time ago. Now I'm going to have to check this out. Thank you for this. :)

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on August 05, 2012:

Jackie Lynnley, it is important not to overdo it on sodium. But even those on a sodium-restricted diet can afford to try a modest flourish as a finishing touch. Thanks for stopping by!

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on August 05, 2012:

I do watch my salt but we do need it so uch and I agree course sea salt is wonderful to the tongue but I will look into your pink, have never tried that!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on August 05, 2012:

I love your salt analogy: salt preserves food and a good employee preserves the company! Why didn't I think of that? Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment, rebekahELLE. It's always nice to hear from you.

rebekahELLE from Tampa Bay on August 05, 2012:

What a beautiful, interesting hub! This salt even has a beautiful name!

It's always fun reading about food history. How fascinating that the word 'salary' comes from the word meaning, salt. Salt preserves. I guess a great employee helps to 'preserve' the integrity of a company!

I always love to visit your hubs!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on August 04, 2012:

b. Malin, thanks for the kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed the information. It truly is an amazing salt and adds so much to food. Thank you for coming by.

b. Malin on August 04, 2012:

Wow, what an Interesting Hub, Vespawoolf. Pink Salt deposits in Peru, who knew...But now I do, thanks to this very Educational Hub, and the many uses of this Wonderful Salt...I like the idea of tenderizing Meat with it. One Hub to Bookmark...Thanks for sharing!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on August 04, 2012:

Starstream, what a nice compliment and especially coming from an accomplished writer! I'm glad you enjoyed the information. If your sea salt is very coarse, you might try a salt grinder or mill. There are many nice mills on the market. Thanks so much for taking time to read and comment. I really appreciate it.

Dreamer at heart from Northern California on August 04, 2012:

I enjoyed your hub and learned about the saying worth his salt. I never realized that workers in the ancient world were paid a days wages in salt!

We bought some Himalyan Sea Salt but have put it in a shaker which does not permit the grains to fall through I must get a better shaker at once! You are a fine writer able to express your thoughts with such expressive detail.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on August 04, 2012:

Yes rajan jolly, it's the same variety of salt. The oceans were formed during the Jurassic period, so the salt deposits are ancient and unpolluted. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on August 04, 2012:

Mhatter99, Iodine is necessary in the diet, but the finishing salt adds a special touch I hope you can try again someday. Thanks for your vote! Is this the wife of the apple pie limerick? : )

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on August 04, 2012:

This is interesting and is seems much like the Himalayan crystal salt which of course is derived from vast ancient oceans that dried up hundreds of years ago.

Great information. Voted up, useful and interesting.

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on August 03, 2012:

One for vote with me. my new wife is unfamiliar with sodium, so we have gone back to iodized salt (only).

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on August 03, 2012:

Suzettenaples, this is an excellent point you've brought up. Goiter was a problem in Peru at one time because the soil here is very iodine-poor. Now, most salt is iodized to remedy that problem. But the goiter issue is unknown in the U.S. and since I mostly write for an American audience, I guess I neglected to mention it. I will revise the article and make the recommendation you mentioned. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment! It's nice to see you around.

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on August 03, 2012:

Great article! I didn't know all this about sea salt. And, the pink salt deposits in Peru are certainly fascinating. I agree that sea salt has a better taste than table salt. But, I do want to bring this up. If you consume salt that is not iodizied you will get a goiter. That is an enlarged thyroid at the base of your neck. I saw this in Germany when I lived there in the 1980s. The Germans did not use salt that was iodized and many had ugly goiters. We must eat iodized salt to prevent goiters from growing. So, I eat sea salt sparingly, and for the most part eat table salt because it is iodized. I'm not trying to rain on your parade, because this is a great article, but I do have to bring that up. Docmo - where are you? Can you shed some light on this?

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