Without salt, not much food has taste

  • Crédit : Incognito photographe

With a pinch of salt,
all  avours of Île de Ré are enhanced.
With a pinch of salt,all  avours of Île de Ré are enhanced.


From La Couarde to Les Portes and Loix passing through Ars and St Clément des Baleines, marshlands with bluishgrey glints stretch as far as the eye can see while contrasting with the green colours of vineyards and southern vegetations.

So it is here that salt workers harvest the “white gold”, one of the natural treasures of the island. Over an area of 460 hectares, they preserve age-long traditions: seawater remains in clay ponds of various sizes and a natural process of evaporation occurs thanks to the sun and wind; it is in the last pond, called ‘aire saunante’, that salt crystals are harvested manually between the months of June and September.

As it was the case in the past, the salt worker uses a kind of large rake called ‘simoussi’, to form small pyramids, the ‘coubes’, that will let the water drain off before being carried away to a more important pile of salt, the ‘pilot’. Afterwards the salt is sorted out in order to remove insects, feathers, weeds and ferrous metals before being packaged for sale. Salt production greatly depends on weather conditions: a storm with heavy rain may damage the crop because too much fresh water a ects the degree of salinity and damages the levees separating the various ponds.

Ile de Ré’s salt workers are key operators for the preservation of natural environment. They take an active part in the protection of a rich biodiversity of  flora and fauna sheltered by this living environment shaped by men; they maintain ponds, clay levees and watch over and control water levels.

Apart from summer months, salt workers devote most of their time to renovating marshlands: cleaning, levelling pond bottoms, creating nesting islands, maintaining  flora. For a great number of these salt workers, part of their time is also devoted to a supplementary activity including market gardening and wine growing. 


Harvest and Reality

Each salt worker harvests approximately 40 kilos every other day; he also harvests salt  ower, preferably at night, that is to say 500 grams each day. If today salt production represents nearly 2,500 tons each year, it represented 30,000 tons at the beginning of last century. There are several reasons for this decline: the industrialisation of the techniques used in the South of France resulted in the increase of production together with a reduction in the selling price; in the absence of labour force due to wars, a great number of producers disappeared; salt was used to preserve food in the past but it was gradually replaced by cold, a common method of food preservations, thanks to notably fridges in food industry and private homes. However about a hundred salt workers gathered in a cooperative in 1992 in order to optimize their means of production and sale; cooking salt and table salt (which is finely ground rock salt), salt  ower and herb-seasoned salt are sold under the brand name of ‘Sauniers de l’Île de Ré’ or store brands in hypermarkets.



"Don't go back home without buying a few bags of our white gold! Its taste will remind you of the sun, the ocean, the holidays and Ré the White Island!"

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