Alaea Salt: History, Flavor, Benefits, Uses

Alaea salt is a kind of sea salt from Hawaii. Alaea salt is otherwise called Hawaiian red salt and has been used by native Hawaiians since ancient times. The early Hawaiians used alaea salt to preserve seafood like fish and octopus that they used to sustain them during long voyages across the Pacific. Along with its culinary applications, the salt was used in religious ceremonies and for its purported medical benefits.

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After colonization, alaea salt was one of Hawaii’s first exports. During the 19th century, the salt was used to cure salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

Alaea salt consists of two components: sea salt and clay. The salt used to make alaea salt is collected from various sources. Native Hawaiians originally had multiple shallow salt ponds from which to harvest the salt. One of the most ancient sources of salt that is still in operation today is a salt pond on the western side of Kauai, Hawaii’s fourth-largest island.

The method of collecting salt from salt ponds involves raking the salt, rinsing and drying it. The only time of year that the salt is not harvested on Kauai is during the rainy season in winter. Today, some of Hawaii’s sea salt is harvested from seawater wells deep underground. The water is transferred to salt ponds so that the salt can be harvested.

To make alaea salt, the sea salt is mixed with volcanic red clay — called alaea — brought from the Waimea area to give it a distinctive red color. The clay contains iron oxide, which is what makes it red.

Alaea salt rose to popularity in the late 1990s, and afterward became harder to find as a result. These days, there are many imitations around. One reason for the copycats is that the authentic red alaea clay is not considered food grade by the US government; authentic alaea clay can be given away but not sold. Much of what purports to be genuine alaea salt comes from China and parts of the mainland US like California.

Alaea salt flavor profile

Alaea salt does not have any flavor aside from that of pure sea salt. The alaea clay is for color only and contributes nothing to the flavor.

Health benefits of alaea salt

Like other salts, alaea salt has no significant health benefits. As a sea salt, alaea salt does have traces of minerals like magnesium and potassium, but the amounts are too small to offer any significant nutritional benefit.

Health concerns

From a chemical perspective, alaea salt is almost identical to every other culinary salt, so it can cause serious health problems if you consume it in excess. Diets with too much salt are known to contribute to high blood pressure and its attendant problems like heart disease and kidney failure.

Common uses

Hawaiian cooks use alaea salt for traditional dishes like the famous kalua pork, also known as kalua pig. Kalua pork is a dish where pork is seasoned and cooked in an underground oven. The clay component of alaea salt is believed to help seal in the pork’s moisture. It is also used for other Hawaiian favorites like poke and the Hawaiian beef jerky called pipikaula. You can use alaea salt as you would any other sea salt; it’s sold in fine and coarse forms that you can use in numerous ways. Alaea salt makes a visually striking finishing salt when sprinkled atop steaks and similar foods.