In October 2014, Kenya stunned the world when its salt emerged as the most indigenous at the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madere Conference, ranking higher than products from Italy and other countries.
Fetching nearly Ksh11,525 shillings per kilogram, reed salt is known for its high nutritional value. kenyagist.com looks at the manufacturing process of this unique food additive.
Unlike the normal salt which is harvested from water resources and is then evaporated, red salt is extracted from reeds of the muchua plant that grows exclusively around River Nzoia in Kakamega County.
The processing and packaging of the salt takes about eight days and begins with harvesting of the plant. Andrew Wanyonyi, a farmer who produces the salt noted that even the process is specific to ensure the best quality.
“We only harvest reeds that have attained the height of at least two metres and its flowers must have wilted and dried. The longer ones have a higher salt concentration hence produce more yield,” he stated,
In addition, the cutting should be done at a safe distance to allow for the regeneration of the plant. Apart from risking injury during the harvest, farmers need to keep watch of snakes, crocodiles and other reptiles that call the river home.
After the harvest, the reeds are dried in the sun atop rocks for four days. The plants are then burnt for three days until they form ash.
The ash is carefully placed into a pot with a drainage hole. Slowly, water is added to the mixture, with the residue filtering out through the drainage into an aluminium pan at the bottom.
Once enough residue is collected, it is heated to evaporation which sees the salt residue remain on the pan. The moist salt is then collected and kept in fresh banana leaves for further drying.
The packages are placed over ash for three hours for complete drying of the salt before it is sold as a block at Ksh115 per tablespoon which is about 10 grammes.
Wanyonyi states that the demand for the salt is high among the locals but his main clients are five-star hotels. He explained that to locals, the salt contains a medicinal value and the fact that the skill is only known to a few makes it more valuable.
“I love the river reed salt because of its magical effect. The texture is soft and it has a sharp taste hence you do not need to use much,” stated Kevin Vitalis, a chef and manager at a luxury resort.
Notably, producing reed salt comes with its challenges. Wanyonyi stated that the reeds produce the highest yield when growing along the river and that any attempt to grow it elsewhere is unproductive.
This poses a challenge given the effects of global warming which has seen river’s water level go down. Human encroachment and settlement along the river bank has also affected the production of the unique salt.