Kauai Salt Sweetest in the World

Frank Santos applying the clay to make a punee (bed) where the salt from ocean water will crystallize. Photo courtesy Kuulei Santos

Frank Santos applying the clay to make a punee (bed) where the salt from ocean water will crystallize. Photo courtesy Kuulei Santos

The sweetest salt I have ever tasted is that made on Kauai in the oceanfront salt pans near Salt Pond Beach in Hanapepe. It’s a labor of love, as most families don’t sell the salt they make, instead giving it away as gifts of the heart.

If you visit the salt pans, you’ll find entire Hawaiian ohanas (families), from great-grandparents in their 70s, 80s and 90s down to keiki (children), sharing in the pleasure of creating something together in a tradition said to be the only one of its type in the world, dating back to when Kauai was first inhabited approximately 1,500 years ago.

The salt-making season usually starts in June, or when an ohana elder declares the time is right. Seven-to-eight feet deep earthen wells that were covered by the ocean all winter long, are bailed out, the well walls scrubbed to open the pores and allow in fresh ocean water.

Meanwhile, the shallow salt pans are prepared by scraping out mud that accumulated in them all winter, then lining the pans with thick black clay. In back-breaking, skin-staining work, family members shape the clay by hand using smooth rocks to make it smooth and crack-free.

When the clay dries, the pans are filled with fresh ocean water from the deep wells. Over time, the water evaporates, leaving sweet Hanapepe salt, slightly pink from the iron-rich red Kauai earth, tangy in flavor but with a hint of sweetness that is said to come from the brine shrimp that come to live in the wells.

If you are fortunate enough to come to Kauai in the summer, look for the Hanapepe salt pans. Visit with respect as you watch Hawaiians keeping tradition alive for the pure joy of their connection with their heritage and of sharing their joy with others.

To learn more about Hanapepe salt and many other Kauai Stories, read "Kauai Stories: Life on the Garden Island told by Kauai's People," available at Amazon.com.

To learn more about Hanapepe salt and many other Kauai Stories, read “Kauai Stories: Life on the Garden Island told by Kauai’s People,” available at Amazon.com. (Photo courtesy Kuulei Santos)

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