The History of Salt
Early farming causes people to eat mainly grains like rice, wheat, barley, and millet, and very little meat. Salt is rare and very important. Farm animals, such as cows and sheep, need salt too. Lacking refrigeration, farmers, fishermen, and hunters discover salt as a preservative to make bacon, ham, and salted fish.
Chinese harvesting of salt from the surface of Xiechi Lake is an example of one of the oldest systematic saltworks ever found. Salt is mined by slaves and even entire villages. Assyrians initiate the practice of salting the earth as a military tactic to destroy enemy farmlands.
Egyptians begin exporting salt fish to the Phoenicians in return for expensive luxuries. The Phoenicians trade Egyptian salt fish and salt from North Africa throughout their Mediterranean empire. Pure salt is included among funereal offerings in ancient Egyptian tombs which included salted birds and fish. Saharan salt routes are heavily protected to keep the trade flourishing. Salt came from Libya, Tunisia, and Nubia. Evaporated seawater from the Mediterranean Sea becomes a source of salt.
The early European Celts of Hallstatt (meaning “salt town”) begin mining salt. The Germanic root word “salz” means “salt,” hence the names for key towns of Salzburg, Hallstatt, and Hallein, which lie on the Salzach river in central Austria. Hallstatt literally means “salt town” and Hallein “saltwork”. Salzach stands for “salt water” and Salzburg “salt city.”
China produces salt by filling clay jars with ocean salt water and boiling away the water until only the salt remains.
The Hallstatt Celts, who originally mined for salt, begin open pan salt making. During the first millennium BC, Celtic communities grow rich trading salt and salted meat to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome in exchange for wine and other luxuries. The Italian Etruscans, the early Romans, and the Carthaginians in North Africa, also discover evaporation to produce salt.
Salt production is extremely important to the Romans. The Via Salaria (originally a Sabine trail), leading from Rome to the Adriatic Sea is built in part to facilitate salt transportation. The Roman Republic and Empire carefully control the price of salt, increasing it to raise money for wars. The word salad literally means “salted,” and comes from the ancient Roman practice of salting leaf vegetables. Caravans with as many as forty-thousand camels travel four hundred miles of the Sahara bearing salt and slaves to inland markets.
The Japanese develop a two-step technology for concentration and crystallization of salt. Seaweed, soaked in seawater, is gathered and allowed to dry. The salt that precipitates on the seaweed is rinsed off into more seawater, producing a concentrated brine. This brine is then heated in clay pots until the salt turns to crystals.
City states and principalities along the salt roads exact heavy taxes on salt passing through their territories. This practice even causes the formation of cities, such as Munich in 1158, when the Duke of Bavaria (Henry the Lion) decides that the bishops of Freising no longer need their salt revenue and takes it from them.
The gabelle — a French salt tax — is enacted in 1286 and maintained until 1790. In time it becomes one of the most hated and grossly unequal taxes in the country. Because of the gabelles, common salt is of such high value that it causes wars, mass population shifts and exodus, and attracts invaders. In England, use of the ‘wich’ suffix in place names is associated with towns with salt production. Several English places carry the suffix and are historically related to salt, including the four Cheshire ‘wiches’ of Middlewich, Nantwich, Northwich and Leftwich, and Droitwich in Worcestershire.
The salt mines of Poland create a wealthy kingdom, later destroyed when Germans introduce sea salt (considered superior to rock salt).
Salt production is very significant to early America. The Massachusetts Bay Colony holds a patent to produce salt in the colonies and continues to produce it for the next 200 years. During the Revolutionary War, the British intercepts the rebels’ salt supply to destroy their ability to preserve food. During the War of 1812, salt brine was used to pay soldiers in the field, as the government was too poor to pay them with money. Before Lewis and Clark set out for the Louisiana Territory, President Jefferson tells Congress about a “mountain of salt” near the Missouri River, which is of immense value.
The Erie Canal is opened primarily to make salt transportation easier, and during the Civil War, the Union captures significant Confederate saltworks and creates a temporary salt shortage in the Confederate states. Liverpool emerges from a small English port to become the prime exporting port for salt. Large salt mines in Cheshire become the source for much of England’s exported salt.
The British exact a heavy tax on salt in India. It becomes a symbol of colonialism that sparks Mahatma Ghandi’s famous Salt March to Dandi. Gandhi leads over 100,000 people on the march, during which protesters make their own salt from the sea, at the time illegal under the British rule. The march sparks large-scale acts of civil disobedience against the British Raj salt laws by millions of Indians and becomes an important milestone in the struggle for Indian independence.
The British government recommends that people reduce their consumption of salt from 9 grams per day to a maximum of 6 grams per day based on adverse health impacts of high sodium diets.
Large study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) finds a reduced sodium diet lowers blood pressure for all persons. Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the researchers show the blood pressure lowering effects of reduced dietary sodium in a wide variety of population subgroups.
The old salt wars are now history. Modern mining and evaporation techniques have made salt readily available and prices remain low. Huge deposits of salt are located in countries across the globe and world salt production is estimated at 210 million metric tons annually. The top five producers (in million tons) include the United States (40.3), China (32.9), Germany (17.7), India (14.5) and Canada (12.3).
Smart Salt – A New Age of Salt
A new age of salt dawns when Smart Salt, a salt with the same flavor and cooking properties as sodium chloride is brought to the market. While it tastes the same and has all the preservative qualities of traditional salt, it contains up to 60% less sodium than traditional salt, making it possible to drastically reduce sodium content in prepared and processed foods from factories, restaurants, and at home. Smart Salt includes potassium and magnesium, both essential minerals for good health.