Yim Tin Tsai Sea Salt
Hong Kong is perhaps best known as being one of the most densely populated and bustling cities in the world. However, 25km north of its heart is a surprisingly abandoned island off Sai Kung by the name of Yim Tin Tsai, or “Little Salt Pan”.
Once home to a thriving Hakka community from northern China, the 1sqkm island was occupied by their descendants for over 300 years where, as the name suggests, they produced sea salt. At its height, the island had between 500-1200 residents during the 1940s. Unfortunately, due to competition from cheaper salt from Vietnam and China, the residents were forced to search for better opportunities, with most migrating to Kowloon or the UK to access jobs and education with the last residents leaving in 1998 allowing the island to fall into disrepair.
In 2008, Colin Chan Chung-yin returned to the island of his birth with the intention of restoring the island and sharing its history, “I want to make the island like a living museum”. He aimed to bring together like-minded former residents and volunteers to operate the island sustainably. As of 2011 there are two full time residents on the island. To him and to others who had grown up on the island, the island represents a unique side of Hong Kong.
A wonderful respite from the bustling city, it is a reminder of Hong Kong’s heritage and past. Visitors are invited to walk and experience this small 1sqkm island which includes an educational and scenic Hakka Heritage Trail allowing visitors to experience both the beauty and nature of Hong Kong, as well as dip into its past.
The now abandoned Hakka style slate roofed houses with tiled facades, give an insight into the lives of those who once lived there. Nature runs wild on the island with parts of the island blocked off from visitors allowing wildlife to thrive. The island is also home to the UNESCO church of St Joseph which stands as a monument to this Catholic island, and the UNESCO distinction awarded salt pans which act as a reminder to 2000 years of salt making tradition and heritage of Hong Kong.
How is the salt made?
There are three different types of salt which we consume. Sea salt, shaft mined and solution mined salt.
Salt on the island of Yim Tin Tsai is produced through the oldest and perhaps most sustainable of these methods: solar evaporated sea salt. Although it is unclear how salt was produced in the salt pans in the past, a very low-technology method has been recreated, allowing visitors to experience part of the island’s heritage.
- Salt brine is pumped into reservoirs using a basic electric pump system and then evaporated in the sun. Evaporating the brine under the sun allows for both water and impurities to leave the brine resulting in a purer and more concentrated end product.
- There are 4 pans which are used for the different stages of the process. Each pan has a different salinity for the different concentrations of the brine. The salt is monitored and moved between the pans depending on where the salt is in the process. External factors need to be taken into consideration during the process, such as weather, as salt which is further along in the process needs to be protected from the rain.
- In order to measure the concentration of salt, seeds are used as a natural saline meter. The varying porosity and density of the seeds allows the seeds to float depending on different concentration of the salt indicating where the contents of the pan are in the process.
- Once the salt has crystalized fully, it can be further purified by once more dissolving the salt in water, filtering the brine, and repeating the process of re-crystalizing it in the sun.
Although the small scale production of the salt pans on Yim Tin Tsai means that the production of salt is not commercially viable, the production of salt on the island is important for other reasons. It is a historical reminder and preservation of this 2000 year old practice in Hong Kong, as well as a beneficial educational tool both for the craft and history of salt making in Hong Kong. As villager Rosa Chan explains, ‘recreating the salt fields makes me really happy because it brings me closer to my ancestors. It’s very fulfilling to be able to do the same thing that our families did centuries ago.’
RURI and Yim Tin Tsai
Salt on the island of Yim Tin Tsai is produced through the oldest and perhaps most sustainable of these methods: solar evaporation - a very low-technology method has been recreated.
Restoring the disappearing farming craftsmanship, it preserves, promotes and celebrates a traditional craft from Hong Kong, showing a unique side of Hong Kong’s past which should not be forgotten.
RURI is proud to add Yim Tin Tsai Sea Salt to the RURI Home Collection. This artisan salt meets RURI’s core values in three ways:
- It is of the highest quality, having obtained the necessary certificates for quality and as a consumable product.
- It is sustainably produced as the process is low in energy consumption, and it is made using natural resources, primarily sea water and the sun.
- Finally, it preserves, promotes and celebrates a traditional craft from Hong Kong, showing a unique side of Hong Kong’s past which should not be forgotten.
Photos by: Daphne Wong
- Photos from internet
- Youtube: Yim Tin Tsai in Sai Kung, Hong Kong
- UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation: St. Joseph's Chapel
- Adventure Tour: Yim Tin Tsai: a Catholic salt making Hakka island
- BBC: Hong Kong Ghost's Island
- Twitter: 鹽田梓藝術節 Yim Tin Tsai Arts Festival
- SCMP: Month-long arts festival kicks off at Hong Kong’s historic Hakka Catholic village in Sai Kung
- Hong Kong’s Salty History: Rebellion, Smuggling and Shrimp Paste