"Salt is born of the purest parents: the sun and the sea"
Pythagoras (580 BC - 500 BC)
A Short History of Salt
As award-winning 20th century author Margaret Visser wrote, "Salt is the only rock consumed directly by man. It corrodes but preserves, desiccates but is wrested from the water. It has fascinated man for thousands of years, not only as a subtance he prized and was willing to labour to obtain, but also as a generator of poetic and mythic meaning. The contradictions it embodies only intensify its power and its links with the experience of the sacred."
Salt, a crystalline mineral that is composed primarily of sodium chloride (NaCl), has played a prominent role in determining the power and location of the world's most prominent cities. It created and destroyed empires. The salt mines of Poland led to a vast kingdom in the 16th century, only to be destroyed when Germans brought in sea salt (which was considered superior at the time). Venice fought and won a war with Genoa over salt. However, Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo) would later destroy the Mediterranean trade by introducing the New World to the market.
A salt merchant guards his wares in Mopti, a town south of Timbuktu, Mali on the Niger river
During the late Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages, salt was a precious commodity carried along the salt roads into the heartland of the Germanic tribes. Caravans consisting of as many as forty thousand camels traversed four hundred miles of the Sahara bearing salt to sell at inland markets, sometimes trading salt for slaves. Timbuktu, Mali was a huge salt and slave market.
Salt: Friend or Foe?
Is salt beneficial or detrimental to our health? I grew up in a very "health conscious" household in which SALT was practically a dirty word. Especially in the US, salt has achieved a reputation as the a notorious seasoning which will inevitably send your blood pressure through the roof, and send you to an early grave.
The USDA recommends that individuals should consume less than 2,300 mg (approximately 1 teaspoon of salt) of sodium each day. They also recommend that people with hypertension and older adults limit their intake to a maximum of 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
What’s the Difference Between Table Salt and Sea Salt?
Nowadays, it is quite common to find a broad range of "gourmet salts" in a rainbow of colors and textures at specialty shops. While their prices may be prohibitive, I recommended occasionally experimenting with different types of salt in the kitchen to "spice up" your savory dishes. For more info on "specialty" salts, check out these articles:
10 Salts to Know
Dead Sea Salt
How make your own flavor-infused sea salt