Salt Production at the Dead Sea

"Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gemorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. But [Lot's] wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt." — Genesis 19:25-26

The waters of the Dead Sea contain 33% salt, an amount 10 times higher than is found in the Mediterranean Sea. Salt mountains with cathedral-like salt-chimneys and caves have formed around its perimeter. Ancient traditions that persist to this day have held that Lot's wife exists permanently as one of the pillar-like "salt mushrooms" that form on the Eastern shore of the Sea.[1] Archaeologists have formed numerous speculations concerning the whereabouts of the cursed cities of the plain Sodom and Gemorrah based on the location of these salt pillars.

Barren Dead Sea landscape

In addition to salt, the Dead Sea contains many minerals and mineral compounds including magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium bromide, and calcium sulfate. They are responsible for the variety in Dead Sea salt, which has been obtained for millennia through mining and evaporation.

Several descriptions that we have received from people visiting the Dead Sea during the Middle Ages speak of salt as a food having many grades, from the rough and inedible to refined and delicious.

The 10th century Muslim physician Mohammed ben Ahmad Ben Said at-Tamimi describes cooking salt of several different kinds that differed in purity, brittleness, and color. Regarding the hard rock salt that was collected on the shore of the Sea and eaten throughout the region, he writes, "In color it tends to blue and not pure white, and its hardness is greater than that of mined salt."

At-Tamimi also writes about an inedible, bitter salt that crystallized on the eastern shore, as well as a pleasant-tasting white salt with no odor that was collected at the south-eastern end of the Sea and farther north near Jerusalem, and was eaten throughout Palestine.

Another type of salt receives at-Tamimi's special attention, "And of the salt, there is a variety known as 'andarani' and this is the salt called 'tabarzad' in Iraq. People claim that it is imported from a village in al-Sham (Syria) which is known by the name of Andara. It is bright white and it includes a variety which is shiny and sticky."[2]

This Andarani salt is also mentioned by the Rabbi Sa'adia Gaon (882-942), who identified it with "Sodom salt" mentioned in the Talmud.

Another Muslim writer living in the beginning of the 14th century writes:

"The salt is from what is extracted from the soil and is of [several] kinds — of which the Andarani is the whitest and finest and it comes from the Land of Sodom near the sea of Lot. This is the way the rock it comes from breaks — it does not break but crumbles into small crystals which are squared at the corners. [Another kind is] the [sweet] salt which is mixed with food — the best kind is the white salt which has a pleasant smell, similar to that of the violet."[3]

mummyThe salt and minerals of the Dead Sea have been exploited for millennia. In addition to providing an essential supply of salt to the inhabitants of the Middle East, the lake was an important source of bitumen for the Egyptian mummifying process, and a source of income for both King Herod and the Roman Empire — both exported its mineral products. It has been suggested that Rome's extended and difficult siege against the zealots on Masada in 73 CE was founded in Rome's fear that Dead Sea salt and mineral production would be threatened by Jewish insurgence.

Early in this century, a Siberian Jewish engineer named Moshe Novomeisky immigrated to Palestine and lobbied the British to establish a potash and bromine plant. The plant, which was called the Palestine Salt works, was built on the Northern end of the lake in 1930. Four years later, a second plant for salt was built on the southern end. The Palestine Salt Works was destroyed in the 1948 war of Israeli Independence, but was reestablished, by the Israeli government, in the 1950's as the Dead Sea Works. One of the industrial features the Dead Sea Works has added to the Dead Sea landscape in recent years is a steep 18 kilometer conveyor belt for mined rock salt leading 900 meters up from Sodom, the lowest point on earth, lying on the Southwest shore of the Dead Sea, up to the railroad.

The rich mineral content of the lake enables the Dead Sea Works to produce several types and grades of salt that have many different purposes. In addition to refined salt for food flavoring, the main types include:

Crude Pan Salt, made from magnesium and calcium chlorides, which is used in tanning, for road deicing and as an animal food additive. It is moist, due to its mineral composition, reminiscent of at-Tamimi's Andarani salt;

Potash, a fertilizer containing large amounts of potassium chloride and other mineral salts;

Magnesium Chloride, a compound with many industrial uses including sewage treatment, and sugar refining;

Potassium Chloride, which is used to produce carageenan and gelatin, as well as in electroplating, and in pharmaceutical products.

Perhaps most well-known are the salts that are used in bathtubs and spas around the world. They are 33% salt, and contain magnesium, potassium and calcium chloride, in addition to a high concentration of bromides.


The Dead Sea Works is one of several factors being blamed for the shocking lowering of the lake's water level, which has fallen 80 feet in the last 40 years. The plant's threat to air quality and to the delicate ecosystem of the area are also great concerns of environmentalists. However, it is conceded that the Dead Sea Works plants have spent considerable sums of money on preservation. It is a strange fact that if not for the Dead Sea Works and its Jordanian counterpart, the Arab Potash Company, there would be no "Dead Sea" in the south. A number of resorts rely on the shore of the evaporation pools to give their guests a Dead Sea experience. It is water from the Dead Sea, and it is where the Dead Sea thrived less than 50 years ago, but technically, it is no longer the Dead Sea itself.[4]


[1] Barbara Kreiger, Living Waters: Myth, History, and Politics of the Dead Sea (New York: Continuum, 1988), pp. 100-107. [back]

[2] Zohar Amar. "The Production of Salt and Sulfur from the Dead Sea Region in the Tenth Century according to at-Tamimi." Palestine Exploration Quarterly 130 (1998), p. 3. [back]

[3] Amar, p.4. [back]

[4] MSNBC "Dead Sea Reaching All Time Lows" July 26, 1999. [back]

The Dead Sea Works,
Thanks to David Bloch for his wonderfully informative salt website,



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