The white gold of the Canary Islands salt mines

The quality of the waters that bathe the coasts of the Canary Islands and their privileged geographical location give us a product as valuable as it has been appreciated throughout history: salt, extracted from the Canary Islands salt pans. From the very beginning, the aboriginal Canary Islanders, the first settlers of the islands, collected salt in the puddles that formed on the coasts.

Several Canary Island salt mines

The extraction of salt has had from those first moments a continuity until our times, both in the ponds and in numerous Canarian salt mines, creating salt gardens, with a great historical, scenic and environmental value. Virgin sea salt and fleur de sel are the expression of this work carried out with traditional techniques, which make this product the white gold of the Archipelago.

History of the Canary Islands salt mines

The aborigines of the Canary Islands exploited salt in a natural way. This product has been so important in the history of mankind that it even became a currency, hence the word "salary".

The natural salt ponds arise from the highest tides of the year. The sea water is deposited in the puddles and with the heat this water evaporates leaving only the salt. In the middle of the 16th century, the first Canary Island salt pans were built on rocks. The process was very similar to that used by the aborigines, since they took advantage of the highest tides and the water deposited in the puddles, which was transported by the salt makers in buckets to a higher area known as "cocederos". With rocks and mud collected nearby , small ponds or "maretas" were built where the seawater was deposited to evaporate.

Canary Islands salt flats

In the mid-17th century, salt mining became very important in the Canary Islands and salt mines were built on the southwest coast of Gran Canaria, north and south of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.

The Canary Islands salt flats, a space for fauna  

The white gold of the old Canarian fishing industry is also reflected in the landscape of the islands. Human intervention in the construction of the salt flats, far from affecting the natural environment, has created ecosystems of great interest due to the biodiversity they generate, integrated in natural spaces protected by a unique flora and fauna, adapted to hypersaline environments. With their geometric evaporation plots filled with water, the salt flats create an ideal resting place for numerous migratory birds. For some of these birds, they even serve as nesting sites.

Canary Islands salt flats as seen from above

In the Canary Islands there were more than 60 salt mines, mostly located in the eastern islands of the archipelago. Nowadays, only a few of them survive, which are protected both for their architectural interest, being declared of Cultural Interest , and for their natural interest as Natural Spaces, being areas of great relevance for birdlife.

Canary Island salt and its high quality

The key to the high quality of Canary Island salt is that it comes from traditional small pit intensive salt mines with up to 10 and 15 harvests per year. It is a much smaller grain salt with a greater presence of trace elements such as calcium, magnesium chloride, potassium, iodine and manganese. It is also less dense and softer than that of the extensive continental salt pans, with a large pit where the salt is harvested once a year.

Working in the Canary Islands salt flats

Obtaining such quality in salt requires great effort and work all year round in the small pits that make up the framework of the traditional Canary Island salt pans. The work in this architecture of maretas allows different qualities of salt to be packaged. We can find virgin sea salt, fleur de sel, salt rocks, salt flakes, salt foam and even wet sea salt that is packaged with its own brine, ideal for fish, seafood or rice.

The Canary Islands salt works are clearly one of the most exemplary models of human intervention due to their quality of design, adaptation to the environment, historical reference, cultural value, respect for tradition, contribution to the environment and to the rich heritage of the Canary Islands.

Canary Islands salt flats

If you are interested in the world of products made in the Canary Islands and want to know more about them, here are several articles for you to read and take some of the sweetness out of your mouth: Canary Island hot pepper, fundamental ingredient; Malvasia volcanica, the Lanzarote grape; Malvasia volcanica, the Lanzarote grape; Morena in the Canary Islands, tradition and beauty.

Paula Vera

Photos: Cabildo de Gran Canaria;;


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