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Salt--the rock we eat

Too much salt can kill you. Not enough can kill you, too. Until recent times, when modern geology literally unearthed the earth’s abundance of salt, salt was valued as highly as gold.

Yes, common table salt: sprinkle it on food, or spend it like money. In the not-too-distant past, salt was sought after like the Holy Grail. Everyone was after it.

In ancient times, every Roman city was built near salt works. Rome itself was built in the hills behind a saltworks. Two of the great city-states of the Middle Ages--Venice and Genoa--grew rich by monopolizing the salt trade.

Salt was once a form of money. The origin of the word “salary” is salt, as in “worth his salt” and “earning his salt.” The Latin word “sal” became the French word “solde,” meaning pay, which is the origin of the word “soldier.” The Romans salted their greens, which is the origin of the word “salad.”

Salt was put into everythin: into cream to make butter, into milk curds to make cheese, and into meat and especially into fish, as a preservative. Salt brine made olives palatable, and ham delectable. Salt was also used as a fertilizer to increase yield. In times of war--if used in large enough quantity--salt was used to destroy enemy crops. The ancient Egyptians used salt to mummify bodies. In the middle ages, salt was used to cure leather, clean chimneys, solder pipes, and, as a medicine, to cure a variety of ailments.

Thousands of years of coveting it, fighting over it, hoarding it, taxing it, and forever searching for salt, seems somehow foolish today. But is it any more foolish than coveting, fighting over, hoarding, taxing, and forever searching for oil?

Can’t get enough salt? Read “Salt: A World History” by Mark Kurlansky.

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