Why We Ditched Himalayan Salt
by Emma Smith
Himalayan Salt, Pink Salt, whatever you want to call it, has grown in popularity in recent years. We used to use it, because I decide which ingredients we should use, and I made an uninformed decision in this case.
Last year, I was thinking about the salt we use, and decided to look into things- just because something is popular or has touted health benefits, doesn’t mean that it is a legitimately superior approach. Making informed decisions involves a lot of quality, scientifically backed evidence, as well as ethical analysis.
Why we do not use Himalayan salt any more:
- Zimt wanted to support a more locally produced product- many of our ingredients cannot be grown locally (cocoa and coconut), so supporting those that can is a big deal for us.
- Local product is good, all things being equal, because it reduces the amount of travel needed to arrive for us to use it- our salt relies on way fewer emissions to reach us from Vancouver Island, than it does to reach us from Pakistan
- It is a mined product- this can be very environmentally destructive in and of itself- they use gunpowder for this, which apparently is 75% potassium chloride, which sounds quite hazardous to work with, to be honest.
- Demand has exploded (ehhhh... like gunpowder, haha.)- I was not sure how supply was able to keep up, if any shortcuts were being taken, and am always suspicious when everybody jumps on a bandwagon
- I knew it was from… somewhere near the Himalayas, and was somewhat biased in thinking that labour standards must be really horrible. I may have been wrong.
About Himalayan Salt
- Most of it is harvested in the Khewra Salt Mine in Pakistan
- Underground, there are tunnels used for harvesting and also to provide tours for tourists (select areas, of course. A lot is not pretty enough.)
- The tunnels maintain a constant 18 C temperature- amazing side effect of being underground in Pakistan. This delights the tourists.
- Miners are paid $3/tonne of salt and work 10 hour shifts
- 20,000 metric tonnes of salt mined each day at Khewra
- How many miners work in the salt mines each day? 685 registered (do they all work there every day?)
- $3 x 20,000 tonnes= $60,000 / day to split amongst 685 miners =
- 20,000 metric tonnes/ 685 miners per day = 29.19 metric tonnes harvested by each miner each day, on average
- =$87.59/day in salary
- If this expense analysis is anything close to accurate... that's not bad. Actually, incredible- if let's say, 5 work days/week, that ends up being $1,751.80 in gross salary, and deductions are not anything unreasonable. I'm not saying that 10 hours of hard labour/day is anything easy (it isn't! It's really exhausting. I do know this.) but, in this analysis, assuming employee safety, that mining job is... pretty attractive. Personally. You can read between the lines, if you want to feel uncomfortable.
- As mentioned above, the process to obtain the salt requires a lot of manual, hard labour
- Gunpowder is used to blast through the earth to create the tunnels for mining- like I mentioned above
- At the current rate of demand, mining at the Khwera Salt Mine can continue for the next 100-150 years
- Estimated 220 million tonnes of salt are in the mine - 50% extracted, 50% left to keep its structure from collapsing
- There are 17 known ‘floors’ of salt mining within the Khewra Salt Mine- as someone who is slightly claustrophobic, this is terrifying. You could be under so much earth. But to each their own.
Which salt do we use now?
- All the salt we use is harvested locally, from Vancouver Island
- We use smoked salt from Saltwest Naturals and the majority of salt we use is from Marphyl
- Marphyl’s salt is almost a ‘by product’ from their phytoplankton business - the water contains phytoplankton, which is kept in conditions that allow the phytoplankton to multiply
- More phytoplankton is better- they actually remove a lot of CO2 from the atmosphere
- Once the phytoplankton is harvested, the remaining water is released back into the ocean
- During the harvesting and growing stage – in big quantities – of this amazing form of life, the process removes tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, which is shown as a massive production of oxygen. A tank of one million litres of ocean water can produce the equivalent oxygen of one forest hectare. The process releases the oxygen equivalent to a 7-hectare forest. When the water first comes in, one millimetre of water contains approximately 800 cells of marine phytoplankton, which will start multiplying as a result of the natural sunlight and the natural surrounding environment. At the harvesting stage, one millimetre of water has approximately 128,000,000 cells of marine phytoplankton. The remaining water is released back into the ocean with the same amount of phytoplankton that was originally taken, as this original number of cells per millimetre belongs to the local marine ecosystem. The production plays an important role in the marine environment.
- After the phytoplankton harvest, a bit of the water is kept and the salt is evaporated in a greenhouse
- The top layer of salt on the water is harvested- it is the Fleur de Sel (flower of salt)
- We use their lovely fleur de sel!
- Another excerpt from Marphyl’s site:
- The sea salt is collected after the marine phytoplankton has been harvested from the ocean water in the tanks. This water is then naturally dried in our greenhouses to retain its minerals resulting in a perfectly sized salt crystals (no grinding necessary).
- For our smoked salt, we work with Saltwest, whose work is based in Gordon’s Beach just north of Sooke. They custom smoke the salt they harvest for us over maple wood. This maple wood cannot be treated- a requirement for our organic certifiers to give our end product the OK.
- Also- neither salt has anti-caking agents added- salt that does not clump generally has anti caking agents added to it. Organic certification does not allow for that, so we clearly couldn’t go with just whatever salt for Zimt.
What are we going to do with the leftover Himalayan salt?
- We’ll just use it personally, until it runs out.
Hope you enjoyed learning about salt!
Emma of Zimt
A lot of facts about the Khewra Mine came from this short video: