Malta - Gozo Sea Salt

Bailliage of Malta
Island of Gozo, April 27, 2024

A pinch of white gold
" Gozo's sea salt remains a symbol of the island's resilience and enduring connection to the sea "

Gozo, nestled within the embrace of the Mediterranean Sea, has long been known for its rich history and cultural heritage. Yet, amid its tales of piracy and conquest, there lies a lesser-known treasure: its sea salt. This vital ingredient has sustained its people for centuries.

In the tumultuous aftermath of the fall of the Western Roman Empire, piracy reigned supreme in the waters surrounding Gozo. The threat of Barbary privateers loomed large, plundering coastal settlements and disrupting daily life. Despite the constant peril, one industry thrived -the harvesting of sea salt. Essential for food preservation and preparation, salt became a valuable commodity in a region besieged by conflict.

The geography of Gozo, with its rugged coastline and limestone cliffs, shaped the location of its saltpans. Positioned at the interface of land and sea, these harvesting sites utilized natural rock formations to facilitate the evaporation of seawater. From Wied il-Għasri to Marsalforn in the north, and Ix-Xatt l-Aħmar in the south. These clusters of saltpans became integral to the island's economy.

The process of salt harvesting in Gozo is as traditional as it is efficient. Seawater is pumped into large vats, where it undergoes evaporation, leaving behind a concentrated brine. This brine is then channelled into smaller troughs. Further evaporation occurs, resulting in the formation of salt crystals. After careful collection and storage in nearby caves, the salt is ready for consumption.

While the origins of these saltpans may date back to antiquity, some, like those at Xlendi, bear the marks of more recent history, possibly crafted by 17th century coast watch towers. However, it is the audacious project at Ras iċ-Ċatta that stands out. Commissioned in the 18th century by Antonio de Domenici, this venture, though ambitious, faced challenges. Despite initial success, the project ultimately met its demise due to the unpredictable forces of nature, leaving a mark on local history.

Today, the tradition of salt harvesting lives on in Gozo, with a new generation of salt harvesters preserving the time-honoured methods of their ancestors. Whilst honouring the past, they also play a vital role in promoting their product, branding Gozo's sea salt as a genuine, sought-after delicacy.

Visitors to the Maltese Islands can now acquire a packet of Gozo's white gold from any grocery outlet, a testament to the enduring legacy of this ancient industry. Amidst the tales of conquest and resilience, Gozo's sea salt remains a symbol of the island's resilience and enduring connection to the sea.

NB. to find out more about Gozo see the “Destination” article about Gozo

With grateful thanks to Godwin Vella and the Gozo Regional Council for making the material available for this article.

Photos courtesy of Daniel Cilia (c)

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