Most Fijians have seen the Ministry of Health's message of putting the table salt away because of its known links to non-communicable diseases especially heart disease and high blood pressure.
Australians learnt this important health message decades ago with less people shaking more salt on their food at home or in restaurants. But there are many more health reasons why you should avoid the cheap overseas refined salt.
Most table salt is a completely refined, man-made substance produced from crude oil flake leftovers. The refining process not only removes 80 per cent of its natural minerals, it adds harmful chemicals such as chemical bleach, aluminium and artificial anti-caking agents to prevent it from clumping together. These additives and preservatives can contribute to other serious health problems including diabetes, gout, anxiety, depression and muscle cramps.
Because table salt contains so many artificial chemicals, our bodies struggle to cope with the toxins and imbalance of nutrients, eventually leading to an NCD-related disease.
Human beings strangely like to poison themselves with the things they eat; yet no other living creature on this planet does the same. Have you ever seen another animal or insect asking to pass the salt?
We need a little salt to season our foods but Mother Nature has provided humankind with a natural, nutrient enriched source - sea salt.
Top chefs around the world prefer to use sea salt in their cooking as the natural salt enhances flavour without all those chemicals.
In Lomawai in Sigatoka, the six villages in the tikna (district) of Wai have been making sea salt even before commercial table salt was introduced to Fiji.
In a story titled "White Powder of Life" in The Fiji Times in 2008, Tai Butani explained the ancient technique of making mahima, salt, was passed down from ancestral spirits. In ancient times, this precious salt was revered and was used as a commodity to offer as a dowry, a gift and even a bride!
The salt ponds of Lomawai contain concentrated seawater, which is then extracted and cooked over an open fire. Once most of the liquid has evaporated, a natural salt containing essential minerals was left in the pot.
The villagers claim their sea salt has many medicinal properties and has been used for centuries to cure a number of internal ailments and skin diseases. You don't need to be a doctor or scientist to understand why. Without the synthetic chemicals found in refined salt, the natural sea salt contains important minerals including magnesium, calcium, sulphur and potassium that our bodies need to stay healthy.
Given a choice of putting the natural salt inside your body or dangerous chemicals, the choice should be an easy one. Yet Fijians continue to drown their food in the chemical salt at the table.
Sea salt is more expensive because of the time it takes to make it, but if the government and overseas aid agencies could find away to help Lomawai and other iTaukei communities to commercially produce this medicinal salt cheaply for everyday use, the battle against NCD-causing foods like table salt would be made easier. It would also be a nice export opportunity for an enterprising businessman.
Just as Pure Fiji and Fiji Water are world-renowned for their organic and natural sources of ingredients, a Fiji sea salt product conjures up ancient, spiritual technique with the medicinal mineral properties of this volcanic archipelago.
Seawater was also used in traditional Fijian cooking to kill bacteria and a source of natural seasoning. Much of the old ways have been long forgotten or seldom used since manufactured, cheap refined salt became available.
But in the chiefly village of Solevu, Malolo Island in the Mamanuca Group, villagers still use seawater when they are preparing fresh pork.
The Tui Lawa's pigs are fed a steady diet of unprocessed food leftovers from my kitchen, including fruit, vegetable peelings and food leftovers.
Once slaughtered, the pork pieces are boiled in fresh seawater to remove impurities and dirt. This artisan technique not only provides a cheap and easy sanitiser that kills germs, but also infuses seasoning and flavour into the meat naturally.
European cooking has a similar technique of flavouring meats using a brine liquid. Brine is made by adding salt to water, and adding herbs and spices to create a flavoured liquid to marinate in. You then soak the raw meat in the brine for a few days, before roasting it normally. By soaking the meat, the natural salt and flavours from the herbs get inside the meat, creating flavour and more moisture. Once cooked, the brine-infused meat is more juicy and tender, and there is no need to add any salt at the table.
I have loved discovering long-forgotten, ancient ways of cooking in Fiji, and the Solevu villager's use of seawater sparked an idea for my new menu this season. Just as tourists were surprised to learn how to eat fish with seawater, lemon juice, onions and chilli last year, using seawater to marinate pork is another way I can take tourists on a culinary journey of Fiji. By substituting brine liquid for seawater, I simply added sugar and spices to create an aromatic soaking liquid for my pork belly pieces.
Both recipes have been included on my new menus for tourists to try. Sweetening ocean water with sugar and spice sounds crazy, but this form of creative food tourism should be encouraged and embraced by young Fijian chefs.
The use of old and artisan cooking methods, or home cooked recipes that have been passed down through generations, are ways of promoting Fijian culture through food. Who would have thought of using seawater in cooking? Only in Fiji!
Ingredients for this week's
1 kg pork belly skin on, washed and pat dry
2 cups brown sugar
4 only bay leaves
12 pcs whole cloves
12 pcs black peppercorns
6 pcs star anise
6 pcs cinnamon quills
2 knobs fresh ginger, washed skin on
4 litre clean unpolluted seawater (or 1 litre fresh water with 1/2 cup sea salt)
2 only white onions, peeled and chopped
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp sea salt
1.In a large pot, combine the seawater with sugar, spices and bay leaves, bring to the boil until sugar dissolves. Allow to cool and transfer to a large bowl.
2. Submerge the pork belly, cover and refrigerate for three days
3. Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius
4. Rinse the pork and score the skin lightly. Pat dry and rub with olive oil all over. Rub the sea salt into the skin
5. In a baking tray with a rack, place the pork skin up
6. Roast uncovered for 1 hours until pork reaches an internal temperate of 70 degrees Celcius
7. Allow to rest for 15 minutes
8. Serve with a 50/50 mix of Chinese plum and hoisin sauces
* Lance Seeto is an author, television presenter and executive chef based on Castaway Island Fiji. Follow his culinary adventures on his Facebook page Fijian Food Safari.