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The salt farmers of Gozo

Salt. There is no spice that we see as obvious in our everyday life as salt. Salt preserves, flavors and enhances our food experiences every day. Not good to eat too much. Not good to eat too little. Throughout history, salt has both started wars and been a valuable currency. Although most of the salt in the world today is industrially produced, there are still salt farmers who produce high-quality sea salt in the traditional way. We found some of these at the salt pans in Xwejni on Gozo.

Gozo salt

Slatted windows made of sea salt

The road along the North Gozo coast passes through small villages on the edge of the windswept and sand-colored sea cliffs. We make our way from Ramlastranden to Marsalforn via small roads that are barely visible on the map. Part of the charm of exploring a small island like Gozo is that it's impossible to get lost. The only thing you can possibly happen to is ending up on a rocky path and having to turn around. Which happens. Look closely.

It is not difficult to find the salt pans. The landscape at Xwejni looks like a slatted window created with carpenter's joy, where the glass is replaced by sea water in various shades of turquoise. Here, among the hundreds of basins, the salt is harvested by a handful of families. A craft passed down from generation to generation. Hard work that is also not particularly well paid, even though Gozo's salt is popular in many of Malta's finest restaurants.

Gozo salt
Gozo salt

Salines, patience and sunshine

On this February day, there is no activity at all on the salt fields. We are alone here. The sun is shining from a clear blue sky, but the spring sun is not yet warm enough for salt making. The salt season lasts from May to August, when the sun is at its hottest. If we had gone here on an early summer morning at four o'clock, we would have seen a completely different sight. Here in the borderland between the sand, the sea and the wind, tons of sea salt are collected every summer.

Collecting sea salt requires salt pans of various sizes, patience and warm weather. The first step in harvesting salt is to collect seawater in the largest salt pans. Here, the water evaporates slowly and the seawater gradually gets a higher salinity. When the salinity is raised significantly after a few days, the water is then transferred to the smaller basins where the water continues to evaporate for about a week. The water is then so salty that salt crystals have formed. Large brushes and buckets collect the salt to allow it to dry for packaging.

Gozo salt
Gozo salt

Minerals and love, rather than industry

Behind the colorful wooden doors in the mountain next to the salt pans, lie the old caves where the salt is still stored today. Here, every family has its own little salt shop, where you can buy everything from large bags of salt to small gift boxes. This is a far cry from the cheap processed table salt you have at home in your kitchen cupboard. Sea salt is naturally rich in minerals (and iodine) and tastes so much more than just "salt". Whether or not sea salt is more beneficial than regular salt, however, I leave unsaid. The scholars dispute about this.

It is not possible to walk out among the salt flats, so we walk back and forth along the driveway and look at the grid pattern. In some salt pans, the cement walls have collapsed and water flows between the different basins. There are a few months left before life returns here on the rocks between the sea and the sandstone. There is still plenty of time to repair the walls.

There is a small cafe by the beach next to the salt fields. Such a place as this February day feels out of place, but which gossips about how many people visit the place during the summer. As a lover of everything salty, I can't help but think about the salt I eat daily. Salt is really not just salt. Salt can be a craft filled with natural minerals and a symphony of flavors. I swipe my espresso. Luckily I have plenty of room left in the suitcase for the journey home.

Gozo salt
Gozo salt

How do I get to Xwejni on Gozo?

Xwejni is located on the north coast of Gozo, just west of Marsalforn. You can't miss the salt flats if you follow the coastal road.

Only one of the shops was open when we passed by (in February), but don't despair if the shops are closed! You can buy salt from Xwejni in all major grocery stores in Malta and Gozo.

Map

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Gozo salt
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About the blogger

Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.

4 Comments

  • Gertie
    2 February, 2021 at 20: 05

    Oh so interesting to read about Gozo, an Island I visited many, many years ago. Can't really remember and the pictures are faded, but sometime in the 70's it was and the memories that remain are sweet.
    Understand that it has changed, as everything on our earth has done in the footsteps of tourism, but what you show and tell about feels very genuine, that's exactly how the salt flats looked back then.
    Funny that I found here, now I will read your posts about Malta itself.

    Reply
    • Eva Gyllenberg
      2 February, 2021 at 20: 07

      How funny to hear that it looked like that at the salt mines in the 70s too! I'm at my best writing about Malta and more places on Gozo, I'm a little behind in writing. More will come! 🙂

  • H
    23 February, 2021 at 8: 44

    Thank you, Eva for sharing this knowledge of how salt is produced and sharing worldwide. Personally, this is one of the most important gifts that the creator gave us. In addition, every household in the entire world has salt from their fields to their kitchens. very appreciated. 🙂

    Reply
    • Eva Gyllenberg
      29 August, 2021 at 15: 24

      Thanks! Salt may be the item in the kitchen that we take most for granted! It needs some appreciation 🙂

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