Ye are the salt of the Earth

25 02 2010


Salt has been around a long time. Therefore there are lots of references available. A fantastic comprehensive read, if you are really interested is Salt, by Mark Kurlansky. There are even some documentaries on the subject of salt, as well as a movie this summer with the same name for Angelina Jolie fans. Our fascination with salt goes back even further than our collective fascination for Bradjolina.

Evidence of humans seeking out salt predates recorded history. Early prehistoric man seemed to settle preferentially in areas where salt could be obtained. Since animals in the wild seek the same, this is a logical place to set up shop and hunt. It is the earliest form of delivery. Until fairly recently, salt formed the basis of entire economies and empires from Africa and Asia to Europe and America. It was considered so valuable that Roman soldiers were often paid in salt. The Latin salarium is the origin of our word, “salary”; the root for both being the Latin word salarius meaning “of salt.”

Yet what is this compound we call “salt”? In chemical terms a salt is any ionic compound produced by replacing a hydrogen ion of an acid with another positive ion. What we refer to as “salt” is actually sodium chloride. It is a compound composed of a positively charged sodium ion (Na+) and a negatively charged chloride ion (Cl). The hydrogen ion of hydrochloric acid (HCl) is replaced by a sodium ion. The neutral NaCl (+1 and -1 equals 0) when exposed to water splits into its respective components, Na+ and Cl, each of which are surrounded by water molecules. Putting salt in water gives us the salt water we are all accustomed to tasting when the ocean wave drops some up our nose and down our throat. In fact, the salinity of our very blood matches the salinity of the ocean about the time our very distant ancestors wriggled out of the slime and onto the beaches. Over the millions of years since, the oceans have gotten saltier which is why today the salt content of the ocean is higher than that of your blood and plasma. As such, when you drink salt water you actually are ingesting salt in excess of your internal salt-liquid balance and thus act to dehydrate yourself. “Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink” as the saying goes for the Iron Maiden or Samuel Taylor Coleridge fans out there.

Next we will discuss the way our body uses the salt we ingest.




2 responses

25 02 2010
Chef E

Very nice photos again…will hold off on my post, but I will be doing a give away of a salt set! Also Oysterculture, someone you should check out just did a great post as well…you sure know how to hang a reader…if it rains I am slipping off of the salt…

26 02 2010
Cajun Chef Ryan

Hey Doc, love your recent photographs, and of the salt. It is amazing how salt was once the unit of currency in ancient times.

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