The sight of these ‘eggs’ is really interesting. It’s brown and white and it kind of reminds us of pre-historic eggs that we usually see in Hollywood movies. However, these curious-looking eggs have nothing to do with any dinosaurs or eggs. This interesting video was posted by Business Insider on their YouTube account. The title, alone, is compelling and it managed to catch viewers’ interest so much so that it gained 1.2 million views in just 2 days! The video tells a story of the craftmanship from the view of Nestor and Veronica’s family.
But what are they? Well, these are known as ‘Asin Tibuok’. It was classified as one of the endangered foods by the Slow Food Foundation in 2016. For those who have tried it, they describe the taste as sharp with a bit of smoky undertones. To date, there are varieties of artisanal salt: Maldon sea salt (England), Sel de Guérande (France), Maras salt (Peru) and many more but Asin Tibuok is considered the purest and cleanest sea salt available. Unlike others, this special salt is also known as ‘the unbroken salt’— probably because it is packaged and sold in that oval shape.
The Process of Making Asin Tibuok
Similar to everything special in this world, the process of making this salt is laborious and could take months. One has to have meticulous hands, grit and a high amount of vigilance. Due to the sea salinity level, this salt can only be made from March to December. What’s more, this salt-making process doesn’t start with seawater. It starts with coconut. These coconuts are needed to act as vessels for the seawater.
About 3,000 coconuts are harvested for the husk. These husks, then, would be soaked for three months in a pond of salt water. This process gives Asin Tibuok its’ distinct taste of sweetness. These husks are then chopped and dried out in the sun. During this stage, workers will have to be on the lookout for rain or else they will have to start the process all over again as rain directly lessens the salinity of the salt.
After several days of being under the sun, the husks are burned for a week until they are left with a white pile of ash known as ‘Gasang’. To come up with Gasang, again, they’ll have to keep a watchful eye on it or else the salt will turn into powder. Any large pieces of ash would have to be broken up by hand. Once this essential ingredient has been gathered, they are ready to be filtered.
The filtration process is done using ‘Sagsag’—a funnel-shaped palm leaves. A bed of palm leaves are needed to avoid leaking and they also act as strainers. Here, the collected Gasang is compressed with a wooden stick. Then 1,300 gallons of seawater is poured continuously to draw out salt from the ashes. This process takes about 3 days and nights. Salty brine AKA ‘Tasik’ is collected in a container and another process begins.
In this process, Tasik is poured into a specially-made clay pot to be cooked in a furnace. The tricky part here is to balance those clay pots on metal rods so that they would stay in place. One wrong step, the salt would fall into the fire, thus wasting their hard work. Coconut fronds and mahogany wood are used to fire up the furnace. One person tends to the fire while two more pour the brines into the clay pots. They have to pour it while it simmers and the water evaporates. These steps were repeated over and over again for about 8 hours until solid mass accumulated at the bottom of the pot.
The salt is ready when the bottom side of the pot cracks—hence the nickname ‘dinosaur egg’. When the pots are finally cracked, they are left to cool down overnight.
The Selling Process
The next day, the pots is taken out of the stove to be cleaned. The bottom of the pots are cracked open and the salt is unveiled. The next step is to use coconut husk to clean the salt from dust. Finally, these eggs are wrapped individually and they are ready to hit the market.
To sell Asin Tibuok has been a challenge due to the ASIN Law. This law requires salt makers to add iodine to their salt to avoid iodine deficiency. This directly affects salt makers and their numbers reduced greatly from 85% in 1991 to only 7% in 2021. To ensure the survival of this business, the family turns to tourists and exporting their product and the demand has been all-the-time high.
Despite the high demand, the price of each salt might not be as expensive as you might think. It costs around 400 pesos ($22) to 700 pesos ($39).
The craftsmanship of Asin Tibuok is one of a kind. It includes water, fire, and ash. It is such a shame if we do not pass it down to the next generation. The salt-making process is indeed challenging but if I were to visit the Philippines, I would love to learn it first-hand. How about you?