Discovering Maras salt
PERU, THE CRADLE OF CIVILIZATIONS AND GASTRONOMIC DELIGHTS
Peru is magical because it’s recognized as one of the six large regions of the world considered as one of the cradles of civilization. It is believed that the Andes were first inhabited by man about 14,000 years ago and that civilisation appeared 5,000 years before our time.
Peruvian cuisine has inherited much from the country’s history: it is influenced by the past but also by the blend of cultures. It’s a melting-pot of flavours, due to the mix of cultures and ethnic groups over the centuries including Spanish, Italian, Chinese and Japanese immigration. In Peru, the cuisine is inventive, well-balanced, very varied, and what’s more, Peru boasts the greatest number of national dishes in the world! Its thousand year old ethnic dishes are made from a wide variety of products. Some dishes are really extraordinary, like cuy or grilled guinea pig, definitely not for the faint hearted!
Cocoa, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, chilli pepper, quinoa and passion fruit are all from Peru. They were introduced to Europe and Africa over the centuries and have now become mainstays of European cuisine.
PERU: PRODUCER OF MARAS SALT FOR OVER A THOUSAND YEARS
What makes Maras salt so extraordinary is the fact that it’s harvested 400 km from the sea and at altitudes of more than 3,500 metres. The salt ponds are in a canyon which opens out into the sacred valley of the Incas.
To fully understand how Maras salt forms, you need to look at the rock formation of the Andes and specifically at an extremely salty underground stream whose source is at the heart of the Andes. The Indians deviated the source by building channels. As specialists in terracing techniques they managed to direct the source to water retaining ponds, carved into the rock face, in the side of the canyon.
Thousands of ponds overlook the green valley of Urubamba, hidden between the towns of Pisac and Moray, where there is the famous Inca site built for carrying out agronomic research.
The blindingly white terraces have produced salt for over a thousand years, well before the Inca empire (14th century). The Incas called the salt ponds “Kachi Rapay”. They produced salt in these ponds until they were invaded by the Spanish Conquistadors.
Nowadays over 350 Quechua families farm the 3,500 ponds. In Maras, the salt is harvested entirely by hand by the local families who call the salt “Inca cachi” which means “salt of the Incas”.
The salt is harvested from May to September. An average of 32 tons of salt are harvested per month. After 4 to 6 weeks of exposure to the sun, the water evaporates leaving a thick layer of salt which is scraped off the top to obtain this famous sacred valley salt.
Each pond has a limited life cycle and needs to be renewed roughly every 5 years.