One of the most enjoyable parts of traveling to small towns in Mexico is learning about regional food culture. Sure, there is a lot of industrial agriculture feeding the cities but the pueblos maintain an ancestral connection with the land. There is a combination of ingredients and techniques that preserve centuries of tradition. The Colima sea salt is a gourmet ingredient with a unique manufacturing process that dates back to pre-Hispanic times. I guarantee that if you come to Cuyutlán, Colima, and eat tacos in the plaza garnished with Colima sea salt or a whole fish on the beach, you will fall in love with this condiment.
Colima sea salt is different from the industrialized table salts sold in the supermarket. Each grain of salt is many times larger than a grain of table salt and is not dispensed with a salt shaker. The largest grains of salt are pyramid-shaped but hollow on one side so they quickly dissolve on the tongue. Even the flor de sal, the finest and most expensive version of the Colima sea salt is a larger grain than table salt.
This article is a look at the beautiful State of Colima and some of the factors that contribute to this artisanal product. We will also look at the local food culture to get some ideas about how to incorporate Colima sea salt into your everyday routine.
Why you should use Colima Sea salt
To start with, Colima sea salt is delicious. It is known to intensify the flavor of many foods. Even though this type of sea salt has a larger size, it is soluble and easily incorporates into ingredients with a minimal amount of moisture. Colima sea salt is particularly good on foods cooked on a barbeque because of the way it mixes with the juices of whatever you are cooking.
Another thing to think about is the industrial nature of standard table salt. There are chemicals like aluminum and ferrocyanide used to process and stabilize that table salt. Colima sea salt on the other hand is a natural product that is made by filtering saltwater and letting the sun distill the crystals. It has a higher mineral count than table salt which makes food taste better.
Colima sea salt does not contain microplastics as other sea salts do. The Cuyutlán Beach and the areas around the Armenia River have a unique type of black volcanic sand. The sand in the Cuyutlán Lagoon is the first stage of water filtration removing microplastics that are often found in sea salt made from open ocean water sources.
How Colima Sea Salt is Made
The town of Cuyutlán is situated along a sand bar that separates the wild Pacific Ocean from an estuary. On the east side of the estuary, there are thousands of acres of reclaimed land that have been dredged up and meticulously leveled. The drying tables are sheets of black plastic laid on top of a rectangular-shaped berm of sand a few inches deep.
Because this is reclaimed land in the middle of an estuary when a hole is dug it almost instantly starts to fill with water. the sand filters out much of the trash like microplastics and other debris.
Water is pumped from the sumps through more filters and onto the drying tables like big trays just a few inches deep.
Salt production in Colima mostly takes place during the hot spring months before the summer rains start. The midday high temperature can easily surpass 100 degrees Fahrenheit and quickly dehydrate a tray of salt. As the tray is drying, impurities are skimmed off the top and as the water level drops further a large broom is used to move the salt crystals around.
The salt is shoveled into large piles where it is left to dry for another couple of weeks. Most of the work is done in the morning and afternoon because of the high temperatures at midday.
There is another type of Colima sea salt called flor de sal which is a finer grain. The flor de sal is the ‘expensive’ salt because it is collected during the hottest time of day during the hottest time of the year when most people don’t like to work.
The best place to buy a bag of salt is at the Cuyutlán Salt Museum because you can see pictures of old-time Cuyutlán and buy a bag of salt. Amazon usually has a couple of bags as well.
La Sal Restaurant by Nico Mejía
One of my favorite chefs is a guy named Nico Mejía. He wrote the book on the culinary history of the State of Colima and named one of his restaurants La Sal. If you happen to be in Colima, I highly recommend stopping by the restaurant in the Las Brisas section of Manzanillo.
Nico built the restaurant in his childhood home and his parents still live next door. There is a really cool block party atmosphere because the restaurant and neighbors bring tables and chairs out into the street to enjoy the evening weather.
The Nico Mejía books on Colima are an absolute treasure. They can be a little hard to find but they are usually for sale at his restaurants and from time to time he prints more copies that are for sale on his Instagram account. These books are as much about travel as they are about cooking. You will want to travel and taste all of the culinary delights that Colima has to offer.
Cooking with Sea Salt in Colima
Colima sea salt will make your cooking taste better. Delicately garnishing your food with a few grains of salt before it is served really kicks it up a notch. The tacos sold in the main plaza of Cuyutlán are a great place to try some salt for the first time. Look for the big Benito Juarez head. When you order your tacos there will be a tiny Tupperware container of locally made salt next to the salsa tray and a bowl of limes. Those are the tacos that made me fall in love with the Colima sea salt. Interestingly, Cuyutlán was the capital of Mexico for two nights back in 1856 during the Reform War as Benito Juarez was exiled from Mexico City, according to the inscription on the statue.
You will find the course grain sea salt served all over Mexico but it is particularly popular at the beach in Colima. A plate of fruit goes very well with chile, lime, and salt.
Surfing the warm waters of Mexico is an activity that can easily dehydrate you. It can be difficult to drink enough water to replenish everything that is sweated out. A popular beverage to replenish the minerals lost in hot temperatures is sparkling mineral water with salt and lime. I often hear it called a ‘rusa’ in the local fashion.
If you like to cook on the barbeque you will not regret buying a bag of Colima sea salt.
If you are interested in buying a bag of Colima sea salt the best place to do it is in Colima. In the United States Amazon usually has a few options to choose from. I recommend also buying a salt container that you can leave on your kitchen counter so that you will use it regularly. I love my wooden salt container with the top that slides open and closed. My mom prefers a ceramic Talavera-style container.
This style of salt has changed how I think about salt. Much like the pink salt from the Himalayas or the Maldon salt from England, it is a true gourmet product that will improve the taste of your food. I don’t want to go back to using the standard table salt that I grew up with. I much prefer Colima sea salt from the Cuyutlán Lagoon and I think you will too.