“Born of the Purest Parents”

BY AWAKE! WRITER IN BRAZIL

SALT has been described as being “born of the purest parents, the sun and the sea.” That is certainly true of salt produced by solar evaporation from seawater.

The Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte, located on the northeast coast of Brazil, is famous for its saltworks. The hot climate, low rainfall, and constant dry winds make the area perfect for producing solar salt. From here some 95 percent of Brazil’s crude and refined salt is obtained. One of these saltworks is located in the municipality of Areia Branca, a small coastal city.

A Visit to a Saltworks

Solar saltworks are usually extensive, and the Areia Branca saltworks is no exception. As visitors approach Areia Branca along the highway, they are usually astounded by the size of the operation. The early morning sun reflects on the impounded waters, which seem to stretch as far as the eye can see. Nearly 90 percent of this confined area is used for evaporation; and the rest, for what is known as crystallization, where the salt forms into crystals.

 Everything is covered by a white blanket of salt, which reflects the sun’s glare. Sunglasses are a must on such tours. A preliminary concentration of salt results from allowing seawater to flow through a series of shallow ponds that are separated by dikes and wooden gates. There are a total of 67 such ponds. The tropical sun and the wind evaporate about 170 gallons [650 L] of water every second! Yet, it takes about 90 to 100 days for the whole process of evaporation to take place.

Although evaporation leaves behind sodium chloride, seawater also contains traces of calcium carbonate, calcium sulfate, magnesium sulfate, and other salts. These salts precipitate, or separate, from the seawater at different times, forming layers on the bottom of the evaporating ponds.

From these ponds, the concentrated brine is allowed to flow into 20 crystallizing, or harvesting, ponds. In some of them, the seawater has almost entirely disappeared, leaving a solid mass of salt. A huge mechanical salt harvester is used to cut away the salt and load it onto trucks. The trucks carry the salt to what looks like a grain elevator, where the salt is washed. After the water is removed, the salt is rinsed with freshwater.

Eventually, the salt is taken in barges to the man-made island port of Areia Branca, which was built in the open sea some eight miles [12 km] from the mainland. The island is rectangular in shape​—about 300 feet [92 m] by 540 feet [166 m]—​and it can stock 100,000 tons of bulk salt. A conveyor belt moves the salt to a terminal in the open sea, where it is loaded onto oceangoing ships and transported to other parts of Brazil.

A Versatile, Vital Substance

Although our bodies need very little of it, salt is essential to the life and health of both people and animals. We think of it perhaps as simply the white substance used to enhance the flavor of food. Yet, it serves many other useful purposes, such as in chemical, textile, and metallurgical industries. Salt is also used in the manufacture of a number of chemicals and is employed in soap, glaze, and porcelain-enamel processes. Today salt is said to have more than 14,000 known uses!

Supplies of salt are virtually inexhaustible. In just one cubic mile [cubic kilometer] of seawater, there are some 120 million [25 million] tons of sodium chloride​—common salt! In times past, though, it was not readily available. In ancient China, for instance, only gold was more valuable. The Bible refers to salt dozens of times and indicates various uses of it.

Babies on occasion were rubbed with salt at birth, perhaps because certain medicinal or antiseptic values were attributed to it. (Ezekiel 16:4) The Bible also uses salt in a figurative sense. Jesus, for example, said that his disciples were “the salt of the earth,” referring to their preserving influence on others because of the life-giving message they bore. (Matthew 5:13) Salt also became a symbol of stability and permanence. Thus “a covenant of salt” was considered a binding agreement.​—Numbers 18:19.

Our visit to the saltworks of Areia Branca helped us appreciate a little more fully just how essential and useful salt is and why it has been given such prominence throughout history. Indeed, we can be grateful that this product​—which is “born of the purest parents, the sun and the sea”—​is present in such abundance.

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The salt harvester on a crystallizing pond

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Salt before refining

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Salt washing, rinsing, and storing area