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Emily in Malta: Gozitan sea salt
Welcome friends of the land and salty sea! With Oh My Malta, we travelled to Gozo for this article, to check out the salt pans of Leli tal-Melħ. I’m going to throw some information about salt before we jump into the salt pan process, as the uses for salt go far beyond the kitchen.
Not all salts are the same
What you are using to eat, as well as what you’re using on your body matters and salt is no exception to the rule. There’s a great difference between simple table salt, sea salt and epsom salt. There’s a difference between fine salt and coarse salt, too, but only by the size of the grain. The following is a brief overview before diving deeper into what we came here to do: to show off the incredible Gozitan sea salt and why I love it so much. Table salt, or Sodium Chloride (NaCl), that represents the ratio of 1:1 sodium and chloride ions is mined from salt deposits, which are then processed into small crystals. Iodine is added into table salt, a necessary nutrient for the thyroid hormone production. Sea salt, also referred to as NaCl, has the same compound as table salt, with naturally added benefits of minerals, which come from the sea. Sea salt naturally contains magnesium, calcium, iron and potassium.
Epsom salt, on the other hand, is a magnesium sulfate, varying greatly from table or natural sea salt. This chemical compound was originally discovered in Epson, England, where they mined natural deposits. Most of the original Epson salt areas today have been depleted and they are not manufactured by combining magnesium and sulphur in a factory. This salt should only be ingested if using as a magnesium supplement or as a laxative.
Does size matter?
Naturally the sea salt grain is slightly larger than the grain of table salt, even if they are both finely or coarsely ground. Per teaspoon, the sea salt contains 2,000mg of sodium and the table salt contains 2,300mg of sodium. Both contain 40% sodium by weight. Both have the same 1:1 ratio of Sodium to Chloride.
On to Gozo
Being the ever-curious person that I am, I had to find out everything there is to know about the way that sea salt is harvested on the Maltese Islands. And since I now finally live somewhere that I can just hop aboard a ferry and see for myself, that’s exactly what I did.
I visited Josephine of the Cini family farm of Leli Tal-Melħ on Xwejni Bay, on the outskirts of the village of Żebbuġ in Gozo. The pans of Xwejni were even featured on the first season of the Netflix series Restaurants on the Edge! Salt here is harvested May through September, with June and July being the peak months. We managed to make our visit there just at the start of August, right on target for the best time to visit.
The lovely Josephine told us that the family wakes up at 5am on Mondays and Thursdays, also known as harvest days, to begin sweeping the salt pans. She was kind enough to leave just a few pans open for us to come and see the entire process. She was exactly as I describe the Maltese: they are the grandest characters I’ve come to meet in my life. Warm, inviting, loving and tender-hearted. This only strengthens my theory that the happiest people in the world are outside and playing with nature.
Not only did we get to learn from Josephine, but we also got to meet both of her parents at the Salt Shop. They have been together for over 52 years and were the most inviting of people.
The Xwejni salt pans have been in the Cini family since the 1800s, handed down through the generations. The pride that they take in their land and their salt is evident in everything they do. Even as we interviewed Josephine, people stopped to take photos and videos of her.
She swept up the salt and made piles with it. She then transferred the piles of salt into a bucket and used the traditional Maltese method of carrying two buckets at a time, held together with a wooden plank, which is spread across their upper backs. Chains run down either side of the bucket, ensuring that they do not injure their backs.
From taking the buckets and emptying into larger pans, it becomes quite a salt mound. Then, they cover them with a tarp and use heavy rocks to keep the tarp over the salt mounds, in order for the moisture to be sun-dried. The salt is then prepared to be placed directly into bags and sold in their salt shop, which can be found just across the street from the salt pans. The work is highly laborious and requires people who are highly committed to bringing the salt to our tables.
Josephine and her family have the heart and the dedication to make this happen on a weekly basis in Gozo.
Recipe for a Detox Bath
Generally, I do a recipe with the food as a meal. However, salt is salt in foods and I can’t teach you how to add salt to your food. I CAN teach you how to use that salt to minimise illness and soothe your aching muscles.
1-2 Cups sea salt
1-2 Cups epsom salt
A pinch of baking soda
If you are a person who uses essential oils, add 3-5 drops of essential oils as you wish
Most people simply offer that to do a detox bath you add these ingredients into the bath and that’s it. They missed the whole point of the detox bath! Even as I went through the internet sites, these healing offerings missed the secret behind a detox bath. It’s a good thing you have me here.
The detox is not just sitting in salt. It’s what you do following the bath that counts. Here is the trick and if you do it, you will thank me for this. Do not do this in the daytime, only at night before bed as it will make you feel depleted and tired. Sit in the bath with the salts for 10-15 minutes as hot as you are able to take it. Personally, I do blazing hot for the first little part of the water and add the salt in at that time to dissolve it into the water. Once the salt dissolves, I begin adding in the cold water and get it to a temperature that I can now enter the bath. Do not enter the bath with burning water. Sit in the bath for as long as you are able (10 minutes minimum in my opinion). Keep a glass of water nearby so that you can hydrate as you are likely to sweat even in the bath; especially given the humidity levels no matter the month here in Malta.
After the Bath is the big-ticket item. Wrap yourself in the towel, do not wash off the salt. Get under your bed covers with the towel wrapped around you. Pull both the sheets and the comforter up until it’s just under your chin and put your arms under the covers as well. Allow your body to sweat. Let the toxins leave through the pores of the skin instead of telling someone to drink a gallon of water so it can only release through the urine.
When I say this, it won’t really make sense until you actually try it but here it goes: You can’t put a time on the detox part of this process. You will know when you are finished because there will be a moment when you kick off the covers and have to get out of the bed and the towel. You simply can’t handle anymore! That is when you are finished with the detox process. This is the most important part of doing a detox bath. Sweat it out. The sea salt pulls the heavy metals from the body and the Epsom salt relaxes and soothes the muscles. Together they are a stronger combination. However, if you don’t have one you can do this exact same bath and detox with all sea salt or all Epsom salt and still have huge results.
I do not use this exact recipe on my children. I do not exceed 1 cup per salts and I do not make them sweat it out unless they are actually sick and don’t mind lying down and sweating. Instead, I simply put them under the shower to rinse the salt off their bodies following the bath and know that the salts were helpful even if they didn’t sweat it all out. I also double their fluid intake and do this earlier than bedtime.
As a side note: Putting these salts into a mason jar with some dried herbs like rose petals, rosemary, lavender makes a beautiful and very practical gift.