Along the dry east coast of Bali, traditional salt panners spend their days labouring in the hot sun to produce some of the tastiest sea salt you’ll find. Near Pura Goa Lawah on the coastal road heading to Padang Bai and Candi Dasa, Kusamba is one of the areas where this often arduous work is done. If you are passing by it’s an interesting stop to see how it’s made — and a bag of salt makes a good souvenir. The salt production mostly happens during the drier months, but it’s sometimes possible to see it even during the wet season.
Dotted along the beaches, you may notice greying palm leaf huts that fade against the black sand backdrop and odd-looking rows of half-hollowed out tree trunks. This is where the magic happens. About 500 metres east of Pura Goa Lawah, one of these huts is used by an English-speaking family who can explain the process. They are happy to show you step by step and pose for photos and of course it’s appreciated if you purchase some salt — and even at inflated tourist prices, it’s still a bargain.
So what will you see? First, seawater is collected in home-made yoked baskets and carried halfway up the beach. We don’t know how much water the baskets can hold, but it looks heavy. This seawater is evenly poured over a flat area of raked black sand and left to evaporate for several days. The dry salty sand is gathered and transferred into a series of coconut trunk vats.
More sea water is then poured over the salty sand — this filtering process can be repeated several times, until the briny liquid reaches its briniest. The super briny brine is poured into long hollow tree trunks and left to evaporate completely for a final time. The salt crystals are then scraped up and collected in bamboo baskets. It’s not refined any further, and sometime there are a few grains of black sand or slithers of coconut wood in the mix, but these are easily identified and removed.
From what was once only a subsistence economy, produced mainly for preserving fish, Balinese sea salt is starting to appear in gourmet shops and these days is sold as an artisan product. This elevation is well deserved — the high mineral salt has a complex sweetish taste. We hope that a growth in popularity will mean a growth in the income of these hard-working producers.