Long before the salt shaker, Native Hawaiian families each cultivated their own household salt called paʻakai, translated directly, “to solidify the sea.”
This salt was used to season food as well as preserve it, which was vital for sustenance on long ocean voyages. Salt also holds a deep cultural significance for Native Hawaiians. It has been utilized for its healing, cleansing and purifying properties since ancient times and was used for ceremonial purposes as well as for medicine in old Hawaii.
The history of salt cultivation in Hawaii is unfortunately similar to so many other crops which became exploited upon European contact. At one point in the 19th century, Hawaii was the main supplier of salt to the entire Pacific Northwest. “Hawaiian Salt” began to be processed elsewhere to resemble salt truly made in Hawaii and eventually almost all of the traditional land used for salt production was either lost or sold. Today, the only remaining ancestral salt flats are located in Hanapēpē on the west side of Kauai. This extremely precious salt can neither be bought nor sold, but given only as a gift. Tradition states that no person is able to farm another’s salt patch and new sections cannot be started without permission. This salt is cultivated entirely by hand in a time honored lengthy process, drawing on generations-old techniques.
There are a handful of companies that have begun producing salt in Hawaii in recent years, combining old-world knowledge with modern innovation. Although this salt is not cultivated entirely in the ancient fashion, it still embodies the very unique, robust flavor of salt produced in the islands of Hawaii and can provide many of the same health benefits.
True Hawaiian salt is highly nutritive. While the average table salt is 97-99% sodium chloride, ultra-pure Hawaiian red salt is just 84% sodium chloride and 16% naturally occurring elements such as potassium, magnesium and iron oxide. These elements can help reclaim balance in the body, contributing to blood pressure regulation and the upkeep of bone strength.
Nutrients in this salt can also be absorbed through the skin to help eliminate toxins and improve complexion. The difference between salt and sodium is also often confused. True Hawaiian salt has about one-fifth less sodium chloride than average table salt. It has been proven that a diet which includes an excess of sodium can lead to conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Human bodies simply require salt to function, but it is the quality of salt, like high quality salt cultivated in Hawaii, which possesses the ability to provide true health benefits.