Off the Beaten Path: Salinas de Maras (Maras Salt Pans), Maras, Peru

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Maras Salt Pans, Maras, Peru — The Maras Salt pans are still actively used and have existed since pre-Inca times; mineral water originating from the Qoripujio spring is channeled into over 3,000 shallow man-made pools.  The liquid mineral solution eventually evaporates due to sun and wind exposure, leaving trace surface minerals which are harvested by local farmers — and sold as “gourmet salt”.

We have a confession: we’ve been in Peru for the past two weeks (traveling with my Dad), and the posts that you’ve seen were prepared and “scheduled” in advance.  Now that we’re back in Los Angeles, we’ll be posting our Peruvian culinary adventures (though, we’re recovering from authentic Peruvian colds, so our blog posts may be a bit delayed)…

We begin our Peruvian food journey in the Sacred Valley, which is about an hour’s drive from Cusco. It’s currently the Peruvian fall harvest season (South America’s seasons are opposite to North America’s) — and its one of the most spectacular times of the year to visit: the landscape colors weave together like a patchwork quilt, and fresh foods “in season” are abundant.

As we drive through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world,  I begin to understand why they call this place the Sacred Valley. The area is rich in agricultural resources: growing conditions are optimal for many types of crops and there is ample fresh water from the glaciers.  The people have plenty of natural resources at their fingertips and the scenery is breathtaking.

The Maras Salt Pans are located at the end of a long, windy, and dusty road.  Getting down to the salt pans is its’ own adventure — especially because the road also appears to be not-so-slowly eroding away (by wind and rain) and is crumbling down the cliff side.  It’s a “one car deep” road, so when we try pass another car on this road, this raises all of the hairs on my arm (and probably my blood pressure as well).

Note that the Maras Salt pans are not considered to be part of the Boleto Turistico Del Cusco (we happily paid the entrance fee, we can’t remember exactly,  but it’s something like 5 soles per person).

The mineral water originates from the Qoripujio spring and funneled through a series of man-made channels.  Using rocks, the mineral water is diverted into over 3,000 shallow man-made pools.

We are told that each pool is, on average, approximately 5 – 10 meters² – the locals divert and fill/water the pans every few days: the filling and evaporation process is repeated throughout the month in order to obtain a harvest-able amount of minerals.

Historically, people have relied on salt/sugar as a way to preserve their foods.  Salt (or sugar) helps to create an osmosis effect which draws out the moisture from the particular food item — this can be accomplished via dry-salting (burying the item in salt), or by way of brine-curing (immersion of item in high salt-content water).

As we walk along the series of tight canals, we can see the local farmers harvesting the trace minerals.

My Dad, the scientist, observes that there are additional minerals included in the water solution emanating from mountain/spring – and so he has no interest in using this salt “for consumption” – a personal preference.  His suggestion is that we use this salt in a epsom salt bath.

OK, thanks Dad.

His reaction reminds me of when I was really little and I told him that I wanted to eat a caterpillar… probably not one of my most brilliant ideas.

So, after not-too-much thought, I think I’ll pass on consuming this mineral concoction that is sold as gourmet salt.

Overall, the Maras site is impressive from a purely “man vs. the environment” perspective… but in coming to my own conclusion, I think some things are best left admired and not consumed (a completely personal decision).

I think it’s important to know where our “food” comes from, and so this experience of understanding this salt’s origin is perhaps enough for me.


About Johanna

Johanna weaves together a love for global foods and wanderlust in Low Sodium Blog. Inspired by her foodie family, who met a number of serious health challenges and adapted to low sodium diets on a turn of a dime, Low Sodium Blog chronicles their (farm) source to table expeditions, culinary travel, low sodium recipes, healthy eating adventures, and more. She and her family live in Los Angeles, California, a great travel hub and culinary playground.

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