Fri, Oct 19, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Chiayi work reanimates traditional salt industry

By Tsai Tsung-hsun and Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Tsai Jiung-chiau (蔡炅樵), director of the Chiayi County Budai Cultural Association, is leading an effort to revive traditional methods of extracting sea salt.

In 2002, industrialization saw the end of manual sea salt harvesting after more than 300 years.

That year, dozens of salt workers changed careers or retired with compensation.

However, in 2006, the then-Council for Cultural Affairs, now the Ministry of Culture, began a project to revitalize the industrial cultural heritage.

It asked the association if it was interested in rebuilding a salt field.

At the time, Tsai had recently become a freelance writer after the newspaper he was working at cut staff.

He was also researching the oral history of the domestic salt industry.

He said he was moved by the salt workers’ endurance and wanted to do something for them.

In May 2008, along with other like-minded people, he restarted the Zhounan Salt Field in Budai Township’s (布袋) Sincuzih (新厝仔) community.

They expected to be able to immediately begin evaporation methods to extract salt, but the collection area was cracked after seven years of disuse, so it was unable to retain seawater and groundwater was welling up, Tsai said.

As a result, they spent the first three years repairing the site without extracting any salt, he said.

In the fourth and fifth years, they collected some salt, but the quality was less than desirable, he said.

However, the association did not give up.

Combining the experience of salt workers and the innovation of the younger generation, they began producing seaweed salt — produced from algae — and fleur de sel, which forms as a thin crust on the surface of evaporating seawater.

Seaweed salt and fleur de sel proved to be popular products.

In March, baker Wu Pao-chun (吳寶春) used fleur de sel from Zhounan to make brioche — an enriched French bread — that was served at the Michelin Guide Gala Dinner in Taipei, which boosted the salt producer’s reputation.

Wu’s bakeries reportedly sell more than 1,000 brioche, named “Taiwan spring salt brioche,” per day.

Tsai said that the association has not neglected its responsibility to protect the environment.

In the seven years the site was unused, reeds and other aquatic plants, as well as aquatic birds, had made it their home.

The association used ecological engineering techniques to create a new habitat for them, he said.

Tsai promotes the traditional industry with guided tours and products.

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