As An Ingredient To A Preserver: A Brief History Of Salt
- Mehak Vohra
Updated : January 20, 2022 05:01 IST
The history of salt through the ages, through Egypt, Britain and Asia.
Salt is unarguably the only ingredient you can find in everyone’s house. It brings flavour to any dish, not just savoury but also sweet and can be added to drinks also. It works well with spices, sugar and even coffee. However, did we stumble upon how did it make it onto our plates?
Salt isn’t just something we need in our food to make it tasteful but in fact, to survive. Sodium ions which is what salt consists of plays many important functions like maintaining the fluid in blood cells or even helping our small intestine absorb essential nutrients. Our bodies don’t produce salt, so for the longest time, we have had to depend on the environment to provide it to us.
There is proof that early hunters would get their stalk of salt from the meat while agricultural herds would have to seek it out by following animal tracks. The animal tracks in turn would lead them to the salt deposits.
The Egyptians were the first to understand and develop the preservation possibilities for salt. Sodium in salt draws out the bacteria which causes moisture to build up in food and then in turn dries the food. This made it possible for meats to be stored without the use of refrigerators for longer periods. Even mummies were packed in salt, to preserve their bodies.
But how did we get access to salt? As back as 6000 BC, the Shangxi province of China had a salt lake called Yuncheng and salt was obtained from this lake during the dry parts of the year. The water was evaporated and salt in the form of flats would be gathered. Wars were fought over this lake in order to obtain salt and use it for cooking and preserving purposes. Egyptians got their salt from the Nile marshes. Many centuries later when the British had access to salt, they would gather it from salt springs.
Salt in food was special, early Romans and Greeks would use salt to flavour their greens. Over time, it spread to different cities across the world, after all, all you needed was some seawater. And today, we can’t imagine any dish without this basic seasoning.