The world’s most common condiment, salt is used all over the world from Telford to Timbuctoo. It’s such a basic requirement for life that all animals – including humans – are equipped with special taste-buds in the tongue so we can detect it.
How to Cook
No complicated cookery lessons needed here – use it to season meals to your taste and to preserve meat and fish.
Salt’s essential to maintain a correct fluid balance in your body and to control nerve and muscle activity. All our body fluids contain salt, which is why tears and blood always taste salty. It’s got a long and honourable history in traditional medicine – Ayurveda values salt as it’s one of the basic tastes needed to ensure perfect balance of the doshas, or life forces, as it calms all three. However, most texts on the subject recommend sea salt as being the most therapeutic, as it contains other valuable minerals, such as iron and magnesium. It’s said to strengthen eyesight, stimulate poor digestion, act as a heart tonic, and even act as an aphrodisiac. But watch your salt intake, as it’s generally accepted that too much is bad for you. Too much salt and you have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure. Ready meals and modern processed foods such as burgers, crisps and breakfast cereals tend to have a lot of salt to add flavour, so always check the packaging if you’re concerned about the level of salt in your diet. It’s recommended that adults should eat no more than 6g of salt per day.
It’s hard to believe in modern times – when salt is plentiful and cheap – that it played an enormous part in the social, economic, political and even religious development of most cultures. This is most evident in the legacies of the ancient Roman Empire. The number of words we have inherited from the Romans which have a common root in
sal – the Latin word for salt – indicate just how central a part of their society salt was. For example: salad from the extended form salata, salted; salami; sausages; sauces, via salsa; salary, from salarium, the payment made to Roman soldiers for their salt allowance.
Religions worldwide have given salt a prime place in their observances. Judaism prescribes it as a prime offering to God and it symbolizes His Covenant with his chosen; salt is sprinkled on bread at the start of the Sabbath and, in the New Testament, Jesus refers to his followers as ‘the salt of the earth’ in the Sermon on the Mount. Country witchcraft, too, placed a great importance on this basic commodity. Witches and agents of evil powers could be identified by placing salt on their backsides, thus preventing them from sitting down. The superstitious, reflex action of throwing a pinch of spilt salt over the left shoulder stems back to a belief that it would scatter the evil spirits that were supposed to gather there.