Among the various salts that are famous around the world, have you heard of Asin Tibuok? Famous salts like Fleur de Sal, Himalayan Salt and Bamboo Salt are often talked about. But what many may not know is that the Philippines has its own luxurious version in the form of a unique salt that has been rooted in taste, history, and tradition for centuries - Asin Tibuok.
Affectionately known as "dinosaur eggs," Asin Tibuok is one of the rarest types of salt in the world. Formed on the surface of a mound-shaped clay container, Asin Tibuok is one of the many Filipino specialties that are making a comeback in the public eye after almost disappearing.
The making of Asin Tibuok is believed to predate the Spanish colonization, starting in Albuquerque, Bohol, where asindero (salt makers) traded their salt for other goods such as rice.
The salt produced in Alburquerque has special flavor characteristics. Gourmets and food experts often praise its distinctive smoky flavor that comes from processing it with coconut charcoal. It also has a hint of sweetness that sets it apart from conventional table salt commonly found in the marketplace.
Not an Overnight Product
The distinctive flavor of Asin Tibuok has a lot to do with the time-consuming way it is made. Like many traditionally made foods, the process requires patience and takes about three to seven months. The process begins with soaking the coconut coir in seawater for months to absorb sea minerals.
The coir is then removed from the water and cut into small pieces for drying. Then the burning process begins, where the coir is slowly burned over many days. This results in a mixture of charcoal and coconut ash, which is used to filter the seawater. This seawater is then poured into a clay pot and heated. As the water evaporates, solid salt is formed, creating Asin Tibuok.
During the rainy season, this salt-making process also faces its own challenges. It is a job that takes time, tests patience, and for a long time has not received the attention it deserves.
Hide the Gem
The existence of Asin Tibuok has faced challenges, one of which is the lack of appreciation for the work. Despite the laborious process, the price of Asin Tibuok was only Php80 to Php150 per piece in the late 2010s and early 2020s. This discouraged Asindero children from continuing the tradition.
In addition, the Philippine National Salt Iodization Act of 1995 made the situation even more difficult. The law compels consumer salt producers to iodize the salt they produce, manufacture, import, sell, or distribute. This was done to improve public health by ensuring adequate iodine intake but created obstacles for Asin Tibuok and other local salt-making traditions.
Although well-intentioned, the law hampered local artisans and forced many of them to stop trading. It wasn't until the late 2010s that there was a push to repeal or amend the ASIN law due to its stifling effect on the growth of the local sea salt industry.
One of the reasons was that the law forced the country to import salt. While the Philippines was 100 percent self-sufficient in salt before the ASIN law was enacted, it imported 80 percent of its salt to meet the law's requirements.
Fortunately, there is currently an increased interest in Asin Tibuok, which presents an opportunity to restore the value of this local heritage. As of 2021, the latest price listed on the website is P1,200 for each "dinosaur egg".
The initiative to revive Asin Tibuok and promote it globally has also received support from local and foreign chefs who are incorporating this precious salt in their dishes.
Not only that, but some families who are still carrying on the tradition have opened the door for more people to learn the traditional salt-making techniques. They hope to share this knowledge with a wider audience.