The next time that you reach for the salt shaker at your dinner table, take a moment to think about the effect that it has had on the history of the world. Salt, or the chemical compound sodium chloride, is one of the most useful and abundant minerals on Earth. It is an effective method for preserving food, and has a number of other medical and industrial uses. Incredibly, the history of salt dates back as far as 6050 BC! Solnitsata, the earliest known town in Europe (ca 4700 – 4200 BC), was built around a facility used for salt production. The process of preserving food with salt is one of the foundations of civilization, as it allowed people to travel long distances and eliminated the dependence on seasonally available food. Salt was prized by all of the different peoples of antiquity, including the Hebrews, Greeks, Chinese, as well as others. It was used as a religious offering in Egyptian ceremonies, and was a valuable commodity in trade in the Phoenician empire. In fact, our modern word “salary,” is derived from the word “salt,” indicating how highly valued it was in ancient times when it was used as a form of currency.
So what exactly is salt? It exists naturally on Earth in seawater, and when it evaporates in an enclosed space, it leaves mineral deposits. Over the course of millions of years, salt deposits (along with other sediments) have created beds of rock salt (also called halite) below the surface of the Earth. Mining for salt and salt production has been an integral part of history throughout the years. For instance, when towns in England were named with the suffix “-wich,” such as Norwich and Sandwich, it referred to the fact that they were once important sources of salt production.
Today, salt is widely available and inexpensive, yet it is essential for human function – your body needs salt to help control the balance of body fluids, and for proper muscle and nerve control. Your body regulates how much sodium is present in body fluids with a feedback system that causes you to get thirsty and drink if there is too much sodium present, speeding up the elimination of salt via the kidneys. However, consuming too much sodium is associated with a number of different health troubles, including high blood pressure, kidney stones, cognitive decline, and the thinning of bones. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), around 75% of the sodium that we consume comes from processed and restaurant food rather than from adding salt with a salt shaker. The AHA recommends that everyone consume no more than 1500 milligrams of sodium per day (that’s 3.75 grams of salt). Pay attention to food labels to see exactly how much sodium you’re consuming – if a label indicates that a food has more than 1.5g of salt or 0.6 grams of sodium per 100 grams, then it is considered a high-salt content food. And be aware that salt may be where you least expect it. Interestingly enough, a 2012 study released by the CDC determined that on average, people obtain more salt in their diet through bread and rolls than by eating salty snacks like potato chips and pretzels!
Dovey, Dana. “How Excess Sodium Affects Your Entire Body.” Medical Daily. Medical Daily, 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 05 June 2016.
Nordqvist, Christian. “What Is Salt?” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 05 June 2016.
Paddock, Catharine, Ph.D. “More Salt In US Diet Comes From Bread And Rolls, Not Salty Snacks.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 8 Feb. 2012. Web. 05 June 2016.
“Salt – An Amazing History.” Salt – An Amazing History. Maldon Crystal Salt Co., n.d. Web. http://www.maldonsalt.co.uk/About-Salt-Salt-an-amazing-history.html