Asin tibuok sa Albur
In the Philippines, it is typical to see a salt bed by the beach, some salted fish hung to dry in order to eat or sometimes used in exchange for other basic needs. The salt-making methods vary from province to province. One elaborate salt-making area is found in a small town called Albuquerque, about twelve kilometers from the city of Tagbilaran, Bohol in Philippines with a population of almost nine thousand.
Alburquerque is a coastal town known for its kalamay production, raffia weaving and basket and broom makings, but what really stands out is its salt production. It has been part of a tradition, passed on from generation to generation, but of unknown origin. The product of this intricate process is known as Asin Tibuok sa Albur (whole salt of Albuquerque).
Asin Tibuok is also made in nearby coastal towns like Baclayon and Loay. For now, only one family continues to produce it. The hut where most of the production is done faces mangroves, and in between them is the pit and the salt bed, which catches seawater during high tides.
Gathering of fibrous coconut husks is the first step in the production of this peculiar salt. These brown coconut husks are harvested by farmers mainly for its meat or kernel (which turns into copra when dried). An open pit just a few meters away from the sea takes in water at high tides.
The coconut husks are placed in this pit to absorb water, and seawater constantly replenishes the pit. Once the soaked husks are taken out of the pit, they are cut off into smaller pieces. They are then ready to rest in the huts for about three days.
Burning the husks requires considerable skill and a lot of patience. The piled husks are burned from the bottom making sure that the fire does not die down. It takes about six days for all of the husks to turn into ash. When burning phase is complete, a pile of ashes remains. The third step is the filtering of salt from the ashes.
The ashes are placed on a filtering device made of bamboo, about 1½ meters. It is shaped like a funnel and the ashes are packed up to the brim. Seawater is then poured into the funnel and the resulting liquid leaches out the salt from ashes. The brine, locally called tasik, is collected into a huge trunk of a coconut tree, carved in the shape of an ancient receptacle.
When all of the tasik has been collected in the receptacle, it is ready for cooking. During the cooking phase, special clay pots are used to heat the brine. A hundred of these clay pots are hung in-between two brick walls, which serve as a furnace. After they are set, some tasik is poured into them using a shell dipper.
Using dried palms, the heat is raised to at least 100 degrees Celsius. Tasik is added from time to time to replenish what evaporates and the cooking takes about three hours. The group of salt makers known as asinderos know that the Asin Tibuok is finally done when the clay pot pops and exposes the round bottom of the salt.
At this point, the salt solidifies and fills up the whole pot. It is pinkish in color due to intense heat but when washed with water, it turns white. Its texture is smooth, with small granules. It has a mild, smoky and fruity flavor. It is described as “the purest and cleanest artisanal sea-salt.”
The making of Asin Tibuok is a dying craft since it takes a long time to make, the demand for it is low and cheap iodized salt has taken over the kitchens. Most asinderos have quit because it’s a tiresome job. This kind of salt has yet to be evaluated and studied, to determine its true value. Some claim this salt can cure illnesses, like cancer.