Friday, September 27, 2013

Salt of the Earth

"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.

In the early years of the Roman republic, roads were built to make transportation of salt to the capital city easier. It is commonly believed that Roman soldiers were occasionally paid with salt. They say the soldiers who did their job well were "worth their salt.". The word 'salary' derives from the Latin word salārium, possibly referring to money given to soldiers so they could buy salt.

      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.

While it's true that salt intake should be moderate, there are numerous benefits of salt consumption and use:
When eaten with food, sea salt can aid in stimulating the salivary glands which is an important first step in the digestion process. Not to mention it makes meat and vegetables taste amazing in the process. Salt is also needed further down the tube, where it prevents buildup in the digestive tract, which can lead to constipation.
A strong immune system
Sea salt is the world’s oldest antibiotic, and has great anti-viral properties. Even Ben Franklin would drink sea salt water before bed when he was sick and swore that he felt great the next day. 
Great for your skin
Try adding some sea salt to your next bath. Just add about 1/2 cup to 1 cup of sea salt into your warm bathwater. Soak for about 20 minutes, and let the salt soak in. It is very soothing to the skin and body. Sea salt draws out toxins that are in our bodies. Some people are known to take a sea salt/epsom salt bath while on a detox diet because it helps the process along by pushing the toxins out of the body. You can also find many products like sea salt soaps, masks, toners, and cleansers to help get rid of acne.
Helps you to breathe better
Sea salt is also known to be a great help with someone who suffers from asthma, bronchitis and hay fever to name a few. Salt lamps emit healthy negative ions into the air, which feed our cells. Back in the 1800′s, a Polish physician proved that by breathing the ionized air in salt mines cured respiratory illnesses.  The same can be said for breathing the refreshing salt air near the ocean, for a calmer, relaxing feeling. We don’t even realize how many positive ions all of our electronics devices release into the air, which drain on our energy and health. By putting a salt lamp in your home, you can offset this problem.

Recent studies have claimed that too little salt in your diet may even be bad for you:
Is eating too little salt risky?

What’s the Difference Between Table Salt and Sea Salt? 

Regular table salt may come from rock salt, a natural salt deposit in the earth, or from evaporated sea water. When it’s labeled sea salt, you know it came from sea water. Once both types have been cleaned up and purified, there’s really no chemical or nutritional difference between the two. If you were to dissolve sea salt in water, it would be virtually indistinguishable from regular table salt. The biggest difference is that sea salt can be processed in a way that produces larger crystals. Sea salt can also be processed into fine crystals, just like regular table salt.
So, which salt is really better for you? Any of the larger grain salts, especially kosher, will contain the least amount of sodium due to the fact that their volume is a lot larger than smaller grain salts, resulting in less salt and, in turn, less sodium per serving. Technically, no salt really contains less sodium than another; it's all about the size of the salt grains.

Should You Choose Iodized Salt?

You can buy both regular and sea salt with or without added iodine. Iodine is a nutrient that, among other things, helps prevent mental retardation. It’s also being studied as a possible issue in ADHD.  Iodine deficiency used to be fairly common—and in third world countries, it still is. Iodized salt was proposed as an easy way to prevent iodine deficiency—and, for the most part, it has worked pretty well.

A Gourmet Palette

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

So, are gourmet salts healthier? These salts do contain trace amounts of various minerals, like potassium and magnesium, as well things like strontium, fluoride and cadmium. There’s also the chance that you’re getting minerals you don’t really want, like mercury or arsenic.
Despite having its various pros and cons, salt can be a valuable asset to our diet and lifestyle. At the end of the day, everything in moderation!

   Sunrise reflections on the Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia, 2015)

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