Seasoned with Salt

From the beginning of the world, salt has played an important part of man’s daily life.  At times, it was considered so important it was used as a method of trade and currency, which is where the word “salary” is derived.  “Salad” also comes from the word “salt” because the early Romans salted their greens and vegetables.

Humans, animals, even some plants need salt.  Sodium chloride as it is chemically known, has been such an important element of life that it has been the subject of stories, fables and folktales.

A Philosophical Chinese Story about the Discovery of Salt (from “Tell Me a Story”)

Everyone in China knows that the phoenix, or feng-huang, as it is known, is a beautiful bird, with its tail as bright as a peacock’s and its scarlet head and breast and back.  The feng-huang’s wings are huge and colorful, and its eyes are as blue as the sea.  The feng-huang is not only beautiful; it is also a noble and wise creature.  It seldom appears.  But everyone knows that when it does, because it hovers over treasures and bringing fortune to those who see it.

One day, a poor hardworking peasant walked to his marshy fields for a long day’s work.  Suddenly, he stopped and his eyes opened wide.  Before him, half-hidden among the reeds, stood the fabulous feng-huang.

The peasant quickly ran toward the marsh, but as he reached the spot where the creature stood, it soared into the sky.  The peasant watched it disappear, and then he turned to the spot where the feng-huang had been sitting.  He smiled, “There must be treasure buried here,” he said, and began to dig as fast as he could.

He dug and dug, but he turned up only dirt and mud.  At long last, he picked up a piece of earth and pondered.  “This dirt must be the treasure,” he said, and gazed up to the heavens.  “The feng-huang promises treasure, ” he said softly.  So he wrapped the piece of earth in cloth and hurried home.

When he ran through the door, he called to his wife, ”I have found treasure,” and he sat down and told her his tale.

The two stared in wonder at the piece of earth.

“Dear husband,” his wife said after a while, “you know you must take this to the Emperor. ”

The man nodded, for he knew, like everyone else in his country, that anyone who found a treasure must report it to the Emperor.  The peasant dressed in his work clothes, for these were the only clothes he owned.  His wife carefully wrapped the piece of earth and placed it in a willow basket.  Then the peasant took the basket in his hand and walked all the way to the capital city.  There he announced his wish to present a treasure to the Emperor .

When the Emperor asked to see the gift, the peasant bowed low, reached into his basket and held out the earth.  He told the Emperor the tale of the magical phoenix.

The Emperor frowned.  “You are trying to make a fool of me, ” he cried.  “This is no treasure.  Guards, take this man to the dungeon and put him to death.  No one tries to trick the Emperor!”

The Emperor’s guards obeyed their master.  As for the basket of dirt, one of the servants placed it upon a shelf in the royal kitchen, where everyone soon forgot all about it.

Some time later, one of the cooks was carrying a bowl of soup into the royal dining hall.  As he walked passed the basket, a small clod of earth splashed into the soup. The cook was horrified, but just then the Emperor boomed, “Bring me my soup!”

The cook quickly carried the bowl to the table and placed it before the Emperor.  His hands trembled and sweat poured from his brow as the Emperor dipped his spoon into the soup.  The Emperor took one taste and smiled.  “Delicious, ” he said. this is the best soup I have ever tasted!  What did you add to it?”

Still the cook trembled. “Your majesty,” he began, ”I did nothing special, but a bit of dirt from the peasant’s basket fell into the soup.  As he spoke, he turned as pale as the clouds.

The Emperor was amazed. “Bring me that basket,” he called to his servants, for he remembered the peasant’s tale of the feng-huang.  When the basket sat before him, the Emperor reached in and sifted the earth through his hands.  As he did, tiny white crystals clung to his palms.

“This is a treasure, ” the Emperor said. “It is a gift from the phoenix.  From this day on, we shall add these crystals to all of our dishes.”

He sent his men to dig in the earth where the peasant had first spied the phoenix.  And that was how the people of China discovered salt and all its wonders.

The Emperor wept for the peasant he had punished with death.  He sent for the man’s wife and son.  He placed the peasant’s son in charge of all the lands where the white crystal gleamed in the soil.  The young man became rich and comfortable, and he cared well for his family.

And so the peasant, honored through his son, rested in peace, and the feng-huang brought salt to China.

Salt sometimes has been the cause of bitter wars.  Offering bread and salt to visitors, in many cultures, is traditional etiquette.  I remember that I received a wedding gift of french bread in a basket and salt to honor the tradition.  During the American Revolution, there were saltmakers.  The British sought to deny the American rebels access to salt.  Later, in the Civil War, Union forces fought a 36 hour battle to capture Saltville, VA because of the salt processing plant there.  People were distressed over the lack of salt during that war. Another war related to salt was in the time of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow when thousands of troops died because their wounds would not heal as a result of a lack of salt.

Salt is involved in many superstitions.  Some believe that it has the power to drive away evil spirits by being sprinkled onto spilled oil.  Some fear bad luck will befall them if they should spill it or bad luck to others if it is thrown.  Another idea is that the devil sneaks up behind you on the left side, and an eye-full of salt is just what is needed to keep hiim away.

The most important use of salt was for preserving food.  Before the 19th century, being able to store food often meant the difference between life and death.  We love the salty taste of bacon, ham, sausage, dill pickles, sauerkraut, jerky and olives.  These are all food preserved with salt.  Salt inhibits the growth of germs by drawing water out of microbial cells through osmosis.  Concentrations of salt, up to 20%, are required to kill most species of unwanted bacteria.

Because it is such a great item to help preserve food and so inexpensive, salt is the first thing I suggest a prepper should stock.  It also could come in very handy for trade in times of emergency.  Maybe it will be a form of currency again.  Who knows?  How much should you stock?  The book “How to Survive The End of The World As We Know It” (James Wesley Rawles) states you should have 10 lbs per member of family.  That number is high because it can be used not only in cooking and food preservation but also as a means of attracting animals in an emergency situation.

Salt, These days it seems, has gotten a bad rap.  It is NOT bad for you.  Everyone needs salt to survive.  But how much is too much?  If you have been given advice by your doctor to limit salt from your diet, then by all means do what he or she says.  But new studies are showing that it may not be the salt you add to your food, but the high salt content of fast food, and convenience foods, or possibly the foods themselves.  I salt my food, my blood pressure is good and my blood work shows that I have 140 sodium, with 133 to 145 being normal.  We cook in this household and seldom resort to fast food or convenience foods.

For eight years, researchers followed 3,681 Europeans—healthy middle-aged people who didn’t have high blood pressure or heart disease.  They observed each participant’s salt intake by measuring the sodium in their urine and measured their blood pressure.  What they found, published  in the:

Journal of the American Medical Association (European Project on Genes in Hypertension (EPOGH) Investigators. Fatal and nonfatal outcomes, incidence of hypertension, and blood pressure changes in relation to urinary sodium excretion.” Stolarz-Skrzypek K, Kuznetsova T, Thijs L, Tikhonoff V, Seidlerova J, Richart T, Jin Y, Olszanecka A, Malyutina S, Casiglia E, Filipovsky J, Kawecka-Jaszcz K, Nikitin Y, Staessen JA; Journal of the American Medical Association. 2011 May 4;305(17):1777-85.)

claims that the less salt people ate, the more likely they were to die of heart disease—and that a modest increase in salt did not appear to cause high blood pressure.

Salt is a main taste in food with fat being the other.  Eighty percent of the salt we consume comes from processed foods, making it difficult to avoid.  While the government has been denouncing salt as a health hazard for decades, no amount of scientific effort has been able to dispel suspicions that it is not.  Perhaps salt is added to ultra-processed ingredients that would otherwise be tasteless just to make them taste like food.

I guess you will just have to take all the studies with a grain of …..salt!

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2 Comments on "Seasoned with Salt"

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  1. I didn’t know a lot of that about salt, thanks for sharing!

  2. mamahen says:

    My hubby laughs at my obsession with salt! I actually collect it. I have sea salts of every variety, truffle salts, exotic wild mushroom salts, the list goes on. Should salt be used for currency again, he’ll be thanking me!

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