The salt vendor’s corner in the Mapusa market has barely three makeshift stalls, made of piles of plastic bags stuffed with the coarse sea salt. At siesta time, the one vendor was dozing by his wares, as I took stock, but he did wake up and help with my querries.
My interest was of course on the multicolored chunks of salt, displayed in the split bamboo basket. The large amber colored chunks are the Himalayan sea salts, which are mined from salt mines in Punjab and Kashmir in northern India. The largest salt mines of the subcontinent lie in the Punjab province of Pakistan, at the foothills of the Aravalli range.They all derive from the salt deposits of the ancient Tethys sea that drained away as the Indian plate crashed into China and the Himalayas rose.
The orange or reddish colour is due to the presence of a large number of minerals in the sodium chloride ,which is said to make it more nutritous than common salt, the iron compounds give it the orangish hue. Many people nowadays prefer to use the Himalayan salts for their table , while I also came across some naturopaths extolling it’s goodness in foot baths! As far as i know though, it is defficient in Iodine ions and the hill people (in Nepal and Tibet) who used it extensively often suffered from goitre until recent times.
The black salt is used exclusively in Indian cuisine or rather in that of the Indian subcontinent including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Legally though, it is a condiment , as it is made by treating the naturally occurring rock salt. The rock salt contains sulphate salts, that when heated in a sealed porcelain container with several types of fruits and charcoals releases the toxic hydrogen sulphide gas which later combines with the trace iron to form ferrite salts that have a pungent rotten egg smell. Strange though this may sound , this odd smell makes it an interesting additive to many of the fruit juices, salads and tamarind sauces that are widely consumed in India during summer. It was the reason why I came to salt vendor’s in the first place. 🙂