Today my post will be a little “saltier” than usual! I would like to retrace for you the long history of salt, and the long “salt roads” that began in ancient times.
Tasting and touching food have always been entertainment for me, even when I was a child.
I spent a lot of time in the kitchen watching my mom and my grandmother, and salt, with its spicy flavor, was a fun ingredient to play with!
Salt is a pure element, naturally kosher, and has two funding sources: from the sea through evaporation, and from the ground from which we extract rock salt. Salt can be found as ”refined,” which is the most often used, and as “full,” more valuable and rich in trace elements. Then we have “low-sodium salt,” suitable for hypertension, and “iodine salt” for thyroid problems, and of course, processed salt, smoked or enriched with herbs and spices.
Who would ever think that by seasoning a dish with salt you could sum up the entire history of the world?
The history of salt, dear friends, has ancient origins, dating back 10,000 years. The story is so great and complex that it transcends the limits of our imagination. Homer called it the “divine substance,” while for Plato salt was “particularly important to gods.” Salt has built the history of man: its history is the history of the salt marshes, the salt mines, the fleets that crossed the seas, and the caravans that crossed the Sahara, as well as the Andes. Salt is also the story of merchants who have traveled up the rivers of Europe, Russia, China, and America. Mediterranean peoples, in particular, considered salt more precious than gold. The “salt routes” drawn from the sea towards the inland territories constituted the big “shopping streets” of ancients.
To access the “salt road,” merchants had to pay a fee to the state calculated on the value of goods.
Throughout history, people have always tried to preserve food as long as possible for fear of hunger. For this reason, many perishable foods such as cheeses, meats, fish, and vegetables were sprinkled with this substance, which eventually led them to discover its aromatic qualities.
Salt Crusted fish
Salted Cod Fish
This is just one of the peculiarities of the so-called white gold.
Many others attributed symbolic value to salt. It appeared as a “salt covenant” to seal marriages and financial arrangements or as a method of purification from the devil. It was sprinkled during baptisms, blessings, and exorcisms of men and animals. And of course, it was considered an omen if spilled on the table, because it was so precious.
This custom is still followed by superstitious Italians, so keep it in mind when you are invited over for dinner!
If you spill any on the table, just get a bit and throw it over the left shoulder.
By drawing a world map, we can see how different the usage of salt was from region to region. For the Egyptians, for example, salt was indispensable in the process of mummification, and also for the dehydration of meat and its subsequent storage. Moreover, in the oldest concordat of pharmacology in the history of medicine, the Chinese Peng-Tzao-Kan-Mu devoted a good part of the script to describing 40 types of salts, specifying the primary methods of extraction and mode of preparation.
In ancient Greece, salt became an important bargaining chip for the flourishing slave trade, while in Rome the soldiers were paid with salt rations called “salarium,” hence the root of the word “salary.” To facilitate transportation, Romans built impressive networking roads as straight as possible to minimize the distances, essential for the empire to grow quickly, and to improve the passage of the caravans for the salt trade.
The Romans also named each road with the word Via (viae in Latin) to indicate the starting point, Rome, and the name of the city where the roads were leading or for the function served. Via Salaria in Rome, for example, is still in perfect condition and used by modern Romans on their daily commute!
The salt road of Trapani is a natural reserve established by the Region of Sicily in 1995, and it covers nearly 1,000 hectares of land. This salt marsh has survived wars, and struggled and won against industrialization during World War II. Today it is protected by the WWF Italy and features the natural production of Trapani salt.
It has been so amazing to learn about the power of a simple ingredient that I can’t omit mentioning another truth about this white gold. In 1930, Gandhi led the Indian people to independence from Britain by leading the famous Salt March against unfair taxes that the British monopoly imposed on goods of fundamental importance; these taxes affected millions of Indians who lived in deep poverty.
Writing about salt has fascinated me so much that I decided to create a short guide for you to expand your knowledge about different salts and their usage. Play with it – challenge your senses and your palate.
A Brief Guide to Salt
-Appetizers: Trapani salt, because it’s so soluble and vigorous that a small amount will be enough.
-Pastas: Pink salt from the Himalayas, considered the most valuable for its trace elements, with its smooth taste that does not cover the flavors but actually exalts them.
-Meats and Fish: Red salt from Hawaii (colored by the presence of volcanic red clay) is brightly fruity, with notes of toasted hazelnuts.
-Desserts: Salt from Cervia (also called sweet salt for its softness) is particularly used in the preparation of cheeses and chocolate.