Most people today rarely think about salt, except when they’re trying to avoid eating too much of it, or biting into an under seasoned dish. But until recently, much of human history has revolved around the clear, crystalline substance.
Salt is found in the ocean and other bodies of water, and inland in dried up seabeds, often underground. It is an essential mineral, meaning the body can’t make salt itself. It’s needed for almost every cellular function – without salt we wouldn’t be able to breathe, digest food, or move muscles. Without salt, there is no life, which is why salt has played a formative role in human history.
Although there is no written record, we can presume seeking out salt was important in prehistoric times because wild animals are observed to travel to find salt from nature. The earliest writings describing salt are from Chinese text about 4,700 years ago, which describe over 40 different types of salt as well as different methods for salt extraction. Salt played a major role in ancient Egyptian technological advances, as they were the first to use salt for preservation, both of food, and for mummies.
Salt also helped create the first trade routes, which allowed humans to move to places where salt wasn’t as plentiful. The mineral became extremely valuable, in some places being traded ounce for ounce with gold. In fact, Roman soldiers were paid partially with salt, hence the term “salary.”
Salt was behind many major moments in American history. In the American Revolution, one of the war strategies used by the British was to deny access to salt. Part of the reason for Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the west was to search for salt. And in the Civil War, battles were fought over towns that processed salt. Since then, the salt industry has given rise to many mining towns and fed the economy of many cities throughout the US.
Today, salt production is a huge industry, where salt is extracted from the earth through different methods including solution mining, deep shaft mining, and evaporation. It’s used for everything from the production of industrial chemicals, agriculture, water conditioning, and of course, seasoning and preserving food.
In the modern age, it’s rare we have to worry about getting enough salt in our diet. Now the greater concern is consuming too much salt, which has been associated with high blood pressure. The FDA recommends an upper limit of 2,300 milligrams daily for most people, which is easy to hit if you’re eating mostly fresh foods, and low sodium convenience foods like Luvo frozen meals, which contain less than 500 milligrams sodium.
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