Dr Abe V Rotor
Nagtupakan and San Sebastian are two villages (barangay) of San Vicente (Ilocos Sur) famous in making refined salt – salt as fine and white as refined sugar, you can mistake the two. This is how the native folks do it with a very old technology.
First the salt field is “irrigated” during the day by high tide coming directly from the sea, but instead of being drained in the succeeding low tide, the floodgate is closed trapping the seawater which leaves a crust of salt on the salt field. This is repeated to enrich the harvest.
The salt crust is “cultivated” by hand or with bullock using a light harrow to scrape the topsoil which contains the salt crust called ati’ . The gathered ati’ is piled on the field or stored in a nearby shack for future use, thus allowing salt making even during the rainy season.
This is the process proper of extracting the salt from the crust. The crust is placed in a trough made of long wooden planks which looks like an oversized coffin. The bottom is lined with a layer of rice hay and a layer of sand on top of it. This serves as filter. Seawater is poured into the trough containing the crust to dissolve the salt. The solution is filtered leaving behind the silt and clay. The filtrate which is a high concentrated salt solution is collected at one end of the trough. This is called inna, from which was derived the terms ag-inna, referring to the process.
The inna or filtrate is “cooked” in the open in large iron kettle under low fire. More filtrate is added as it evaporates to increase the yield. The salt is turned regularly to prevent the formation of crust at the bottom and to hasten cooking. Just like in the final stage in cooking rice, the in salt yield is allowed to dry completely.
The salt product is placed in a large bamboo basket for tempering, allowing the salt to become mellow (like wine). During this stage the salt attains its true fine texture, whiteness, and dryness.
Salt making with this indigenous technology is now a dying industry. Ironically it is in the endangered stage of a craft that earns its place in the list of tourists’ attractions. There are reasons why the industry is dying and these are as follows.
• High cost of production
• Dwindling supply of firewood
• The younger generation would rather go other jobs, or pursue careers
• Product competition – commercial salt, local and imported, has flooded the market.
• Advanced technology such as solar desalination of seawater has replaced traditional processes.
• Water pollution has rendered many salt fields unsuitable for this industry.
• Comparative profitability of other industries like prawn farming, seaweed farming and fish cage culture have replaced the industry.
If you happen to go up north, visit the indigenous salt making villages, seven km west of Vigan, and test for yourself which is salt and which is sugar just by looking at these two similar products in all their fineness and whiteness. ~