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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Eating With Salt

A brief history of Salt.
Flavor, Preservation, Power, Life.

As a dentist, you’re more aware than most people of what happens inside a human mouth. And you know that saltiness is one of the basic human tastes. As one of the oldest and most widely used seasonings, salt is the only rock that man eats. It also happens to be a key component in food preservation.

Salt is historically significant. For instance, in 1930, Mahatma Gandhi led over 100,000 people on the Dandi March, or "Salt Satyagraha." These protesters made their own salt from the sea, which was illegal under British rule, as it avoided paying the "salt tax." This protracted act of civil disobedience inspired millions of common people, and elevated the Indian independence movement from an elitist struggle to a national movement.

The word “salary” originates from the Latin word salarium, which referred to the money paid to Roman soldiers for the purchase of salt. The word “salad” literally means “salted,” and comes from the ancient Roman practice of salting leaf vegetables.

Salt is diverse. Salt comes in a variety of styles from a variety of places. For instance, salt can be produced by the evaporation of seawater. Or, the evaporation of brine from sources like brine wells and salt lakes. Sometimes, salt is obtained by mining halite, known also as rock salt.

As you no doubt remember from Chemistry 101, salt molecules (NaCl) are composed of chloride and sodium ions. In order to survive, all living creatures need these components in small quantities. Salt helps regulate our bodies’ fluid balance. Throughout human history, its importance to survival has made salt a valuable commodity.

For thousands of years, salt has been the world’s most popular food preservative. It’s especially useful in preserving meat. An ancient saltworks was discovered at an archaeological site in Romania. There is evidence that, as long ago as 6,050 BC, Neolithic people boiled salt-laden spring water to extract salt. This salt extraction operation is believed to have had a direct correlation to the society’s rapid growth. One of the world’s oldest verifiable saltworks is in Shanxi, China, dating to 6,000 BC. Funereal offerings found in ancient Egyptian tombs from the third millennium BC include salt, salted birds, and salt fish. From about 2,800 BC, the Egyptians began exporting salt fish to the Phoenicians in return for Lebanon cedar, glass, and the dye known as Tyrian purple. The Phoenicians traded Egyptian salt fish and salt from North Africa throughout their Mediterranean trade empire.

Along the Sahara desert, the Berber nomads known as the Tuareg still maintain routes especially for transporting salt. Even today, they still transport roughly 5,000 tons of salt via Azalai, or salt caravans.

The German word for salt is “salz.” The central Austrian towns of Salzburg, Hallstatt, and Hallein lie on the river Salzach, within a radius of roughly 10 miles. Salzach literally means “Salt Water.” Salzburg means “Salt City.” Around 800 BC, Celts began mining for salt in the area. Around 400 BC, the Hallstatt Celts began evaporative, open pan salt making. During the first millennium BC, Celtic communities grew rich trading salt and salted meat to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome in exchange for wine and other luxuries.

Salt is essential for life. For thousands of years, salt has represented qualities like Vitality, Loyalty, Friendship, Truth and Wisdom. In modern society, salt is used to enhance that which is already high quality. And taking something good and making it better is always a worthwhile endeavor.

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