Seems like I’m on a ‘salt kick’ briefly. No, not an actual binge on salty foods, although for many people those salty snacks are oh so desirable. And, generally, food without any salt does taste rather bland! No, rather on a quest for salt information and interesting salty factoids.
I wrote recently about the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland near Krakow, a very deep underground rock-salt mine (see here https://easterneuropetrip.wordpress.com/2015/10/21/wieliczka-salt-mine-wieliczka-kopalnia-soli/ )
and about a Korean Salt Field (see here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2015/10/31/korean-salt-fields/ )
That got me thinking about the importance of salt to humans and animals, which has been recognized from ancient times to the present. Thousands of years ago, animals created paths to salt licks, and men followed. Their trails became roads and next to these, settlements grew and became cities. Salt’s ability to preserve food was an important factor in the development of civilization as we know it, as it eliminated the dependence on seasonal availability, and allowed travel over long distances. However, it was difficult to obtain, so was a highly valued trade item and sign of wealth, and was used as currency before there was money. Roman soldiers who performed their duties well were said to be “worth their salt” (competent and skilled) and the word “salary” comes from the Latin “salarium” used to describe their wages in salt. They were paid in salt, literally worth its weight in gold.
There are many other phrases using “salt”—all an indication of the importance given to salt in society. Here are a few of the better-known ones.
—Below the salt, meaning “common or lowly, or ordinary”. In mediaeval England, salt was expensive and only the higher ranks of society could afford it. Salt was extracted from seawater by evaporation. This was more difficult to do in northern Europe as evaporation was brought about by boiling over a fire, compared to the action of the sun in countries with warmer climates. In England this method was abandoned in the mid-1600s when they started to mine natural rock-salt commercially in Cheshire. Before that, the high value of salt gave it a high symbolic status in the day-to-day language of England in the Middle Ages.
At that time the nobility sat at the ‘high table’ and their commoner servants at lower trestle tables. Salt was placed in the centre of the high table and only those of rank could use it. Those on the lower tables were below (or beneath) the salt.
—To take with a grain of salt, meaning “to consider something to be not completely true or right”. This is based on the idea that food tastes better and is easier to swallow if you add a little salt
—Salt of the Earth (Matt v 13 in the Bible). Jesus used this as a metaphor to mean the best or most worthy people, embodying moral integrity
A few Interesting Facts about Salt:
— The first written reference to salt is found in the Book of Job in the Bible, recorded about 2,250 BC. There are 31 other references to salt in the Bible, the most familiar probably being the story of Lot’s wife who was turned into a pillar of salt when she disobeyed the angels and looked back at the wicked city of Sodom.
—Hippocrates encouraged his fellow healers to use salt water for healing by immersing patients in sea water.
—England’s “-wich” towns. “Wich” and “wych” are names associated with brine springs or wells in England. By the 11th century this came to be linked with places with a specialized function, including salt production. Four famous ones in Cheshire are Northwich, Leftwich, Middlewich and Nantwich. Other famous ones are Sandwich and Norwich.
—Solnitsata, the earliest known town in Europe (4700-4200BC), was built around a salt production facility. The town was located in present-day Bulgaria, and archeologists believe it got wealthy by supplying salt throughout the Balkans.
—The Natron Valley of Egypt was a key region that supported the Egyptian Empire in the north as it supplied a kind of salt that came to be called by its name, natron. It was used mainly as a cleaning product and in Egyptian mummification.
—Saltzburg in Austria (meaning ‘salt town’) has salt mines close by. They are now tourist attractions and well worth a visit.
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