Salt Production – The Traditional Way: Bali

Mid the thick smoke that filled the dilapidated workshop, the 49-year old Made Kada worked silently. Using a long wooden spoon he repeatedly stirred the boiling, thick liquid inside the wooden barrel. Several times he looked into the blazing furnace below the barrel and, if necessary, would add more firewood to the fire. When he couldn’t take the smoke any longer, he rested briefly, away from the furnace. Then he resumed the work until the liquid turned into a mound of dry, white crystals. The long, exhausting process had yielded its end product — salt.

These crystals were later mixed with special water, having a high salinity level, before being processed into consumer-grade salt, asti Atmodjo writes.

One cycle of the salt-making process takes three to four hours and in a typical day Kada could complete up to five cycles of that process.

“I wake up at 5 a.m. in the morning and work until 6 in the evening or until late in the night when the demand is high,” he said.

A native of Sraya, Karangasem, one of the island’s poorest regions, Kada has been a traditional salt-maker for 20 years.

Assisted by his wife and children, Kada produces salt at his wooden house in Sidakarya, a village at the southern outskirts of Denpasar.

“I used to be a laborer for a salt workshop for years before I started my own workshop.”

Unlike the salt-making process utilized in Java and Madura, where the materials are dried under the scorching sun, the salt-making process in Bali heavily depends on the heat produced by the burning furnace.

“Balinese salt-makers rarely have spacious plot of lands, a necessity when they want to use the sun drying process. Moreover, the coastal areas of Bali have a relatively high rainfall rate, which increases the chance of the salt plant being swamped by water,” Kada said.

Moreover, the saltwater of the island’s sea had a low salinity level.

“The sea water of Java has a high salinity level,” he added.

The low salinity level of the island’s sea water means that, in order to produce good quality salt, Kada must mix the water with raw salt at the beginning of the salt-making process.
Kada buys the raw salt from a supplier in East Java at a price of Rp 500 per kilogram. He uses more than five tons of raw salt per month.

The traditional salt-making process in Kada’s workshop involves several stages. First, the raw salt is mixed with salty water. The resulting liquid is then filtered to get rid of unwanted particles. Then, the filtered liquid is placed inside a wooden barrel and cooked atop the furnace.

Kada sells his salt for Rp 50,000 per 35 kilogram sack.

“We never go to market to sell our product. Salt traders come to our house every day and buy all our salt,” Kada’s wife Wayan Londri said, adding that the salt market in Denpasar was much better than the one in her hometown in Karangasem.

“Here we always have buyers for our product and most of the time we have no stock left. In Karangasem the number of the buyers is very small,” she said.

Salt traders are not the only group that regularly visits Kada’s workshop. Recently, to the amazement of the whole family, groups of foreign visitors have begun trickling into the dark, hot workshop to have a glimpse at the traditional salt-making process. After taking several pictures, some of them buy Kada’s salt for souvenirs.

“These visitors are our source for extra income. They often give money to my children,” Londri added.

Kada’s third child Nyoman Artha said the traditional process had its health downside, often causing respiratory and eye problems.

“Once we tried to replace the wood furnace with a gas stove hoping to reduce the smoke. However, it turned out the salt produced that way couldn’t match what we make with the wood furnace.”

Kada said the salt-making workshop had provided him with enough money to support his family.

“This business enables me to save some money for the future,” he added.