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Valle Salado de Anana

ancient natural salt mine with landscape of mountains in Basque country of Spain

At the core of any raw vegetable fermentation is salt. Salt (NaCl) is responsible for creating an environment in which pathogenic bacteria & microorganisms die and favorable ones (lactic acid bacteria or LAB) thrive.

Salt draws out water from vegetal matter through osmosis. The naturally extracted water helps to create a brine that is beneficial for LAB to grow. Rather than creating an artificial brine with salt and water - why not use the water already in the pepper? A pre-made brine will only dilute the flavor after fermentation. For this reason- we choose to use a style called mash fermentation. This process is extremely simple. Pulverize any vegetable (chili) with 2-5% ratio by weight of salt and you have a mash. Leave to ferment until the pH is reduced to your desired range and now you have fermented chili mash.

Before ONIMA began, we recognized the importance of using high quality salt. When I was living in Kentucky, I strictly used J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works due to its superior quality and regional importance. The first thing I searched for in Spain was an equivalent. Turns out there is a beautiful salt mine in Basque Country that had been operating in various capacities for over 7000 years.

Valle Salado de Añana is more than just a salt supplier for us. It’s an archaeological curiosity, an architectural marvel, a cultural hub, and the oldest active salt pan in the world. The salt mine uses no mechanical pumps or gasoline fueled extraction methods. Everything is done by gravity and by hand with tools made from iron and wood.

Saline rich water flows from underground springs through the valley and is channeled in to large pans for slow evaporation. This can only be done during good weather to protect the salt from impurities blown in by the wind or rain. For this reason, there is a seasonality element to salt mining. As the water evaporates, workers toss and rake the salt into mounds before carting it off to inspection rooms where the salt is checked for debris and impurities. After being cleared, it is broken down into various grades for different applications.

Because the salt water from Valle Salado de Añana has never touched a modern ocean, it is free from microplastics and other human interferences. It is the cleanest salt in the world and is the reason ONIMA chooses to use it for our chili fermentation.