In quest of the purest salt at 450 meters below Earth’s surface

September 15th, 2011 | Posted by greg in Daily life... | Travel

While sorting the thousands of photos I had from the summer vacation, I found a few on a visit we did in the salt mine of Bex. Knowing the importance of salt in food and particularly baking, I thought nice to share the experience…

The little train brought us at 450 meters below Earth’s surface. If you suffer claustrophobia, this might be not the best place for you. For anyone else, this is absolutely worth the trip in the cramped little train.

The story behind the salt mine of Bex, in Switzerland is rather edifying. Many moons ago, goats were on the green pastures of the area. They were always going back to the same spot, licking the soil and the farmer noticed it. After a little investigation he found out that the soil was unusually rich in salt, which attracted the goat naturally.

Thereafter, galleries were excavated and the salt exploitation started. Along the many years, technology evolved, but at the beginning for example, the underground water, saturated in salt, was directed on piles of wood very slowly. The water would evaporate from the wood and the salt would crystallize on its surface where it was then harvested.

 

Today the Bex salt mine produces tons of salt daily and as we were told, that crystal salt is some of the purest in the world and here is why…

80 million years ago (that sounds like a commercial for mineral water!) the valleys of that corner of Switzerland (where I come from) were covered by sea and at some point the sea dried up. All that was left was the salt from the ocean’s water. Then, the continents moved and crashed into each others, forming mountains known today as the Alps. In the process, the thick layer of sea salt was engulfed into many layers of rocks and for 80 million years it has been sleeping, hidden from any impurities possible. The story is much longer than what I make it sound, of course…

Thus, that salt is actually sea salt, but it has been protected by an unbelievable thick jacket of granite and other stones, making it absolutely pristine. We were told by our guide that the sea salt from Guerande for example is less pure than that one and that for instance when the petrol tanker Erika crashed open off the coast of Spain and France, the Guerande salt plant closed their safety gates 15 minutes before the black wave arrived there. Of course, I couldn’t verify what the guide said, but it sounds all very possible and indeed, the Bex salt seems to be well protected from such disaster.

Today, the Bex salt mine has developed a wide range of cosmetic products, food product such as toffees, flavored salt, spreads and so on… I tried a few items and it is indeed very nice.

I though very interesting to discover how mine works, especially the methane gas detector. The one installed throughout the mine were super high-tech and it was good to learn how methane occurs in mines and thus we could understand all the reasons behind explosions.

Along the visit of the mine, there are loads of interesting stuff to see, including a wine cellar located at the heart of the mine, where our guide told us that a year of aging in the cave was equivalent to 4 years in a regular cellar. I was skeptical, really. They also opened a restaurant inside the mine, which I though interesting, although the view was a bit stone cold!

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