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close this bookSmall-Scale Processing of Fish (ILO - WEP, 1982, 140 p.)
close this folderII. SALTING
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentII.1. Kench salting
View the documentII.2. Pickle curing
View the documentII.3. Brine salting
View the documentII.4. Salt quality

II.4. Salt quality

The salt used for curing fish (fishery salt) is a mixture of a number of chemicals. A good fishery salt contains from 95% to 98% of common salt known chemically as sodium chloride. Since fishery salt generally originates from the sea, it contains impurities such as chlorides and sulphates of calcium and magnesium, and sodium sulphate and carbonates. Other types of fishery salt include rock salt (i.e. mined salt) and sun salt or solar salt (i.e. salt obtained through water evaporation from coastal lagoons or ponds).

The type and quality of salt used affect the appearance, flavour and shelf life of cured fish. If pure sodium chloride is used for curing, the product is pale yellow in colour and soft. A small proportion of calcium and magnesium salts is desirable as the latter yield a whiter, firmer cure which is preferred by most people. However, if the proportion of these chemicals is too high, the rate at which the sodium chloride impregnates the fish is slowed down. Furthermore, the salt becomes damp as the chemicals absorb moisture from the air and make the product taste bitter.

The composition of sun or solar salt is determined by various factors outside the control of the processed fish producer. Therefore, if salt from one source proves unsatisfactory another source should be sought or the curer should consider making his own salt.

Solar salt often contains some sand and mud as it is usually scraped up from the bottom of the ponds in which it is made. The cheapest grades contain a large proportion of dirt and these should not be bought for fish curing. Salt should be kept in clean bags or covered bins so that it does not become dirty.

Salt may also contain both moulds and bacteria. The bacteria cause the pink colour sometimes seen in salted fish. These bacteria also make the fish slimy and produce an unpleasant odour. If the salt is kept in storage under dry conditions, for 6 to 12 months, the number of bacteria present will be much reduced. Alternatively, the salt can be baked to kill the bacteria. Both storage and baking will increase the processing costs. These may be avoided if some consumers of traditional products prefer the strong flavours produced in cured fish by mild attacks of pink bacteria.

All processing equipment and surfaces must be thoroughly washed with fresh water to help prevent pinking. Light growths can be brushed off from the fish surface and the product redried but severe attack leads to the destruction of the fish.

Solar salt often contains very large pieces which should be broken up by grinding. An ideal salt for dry salting operations contains some very fine grains which will dissolve quickly and some larger ones which will dissolve more slowly and prevent the fish from sticking together. For making brines, very fine salt is preferred because it dissolves quickly.