I’ve written before, about how salt alone can save a dish — most often, cooks at home under-utilize the seasoning. And while salt was known to have a singular source in my growing-up years (a blue cardboard canister bearing an umbrella-laden girl), I now have about four different varieties in my pantry, none of them Morton’s, none of them iodized.
But I had no idea, the importance salt has played in the history of civilization. Sure, I’d heard of spice trading (and who doesn’t visualize a scene from Dune when you hear that word combination?) — but salt? Really?
I’m currently reading a book with that title (no Angelina Jolie in this one): Salt, a World History by Mark Kurlansky. And before you go thinking that I’ve taken my food-reading to the point of the painfully mundane, here’s an excerpt:
Most Italian cities were founded proximate to saltworks, starting with Rome in the hills behind the saltworks at the mouth of the Tiber… The Roman army required salt for its soldiers and for its horses and livestock. At times soldiers were even paid in salt, which was the origin of the word salary and the expression “worth his salt” or “earning his salt.” In fact, the Latin word sal became the French word solde, meaning pay, which is the origin of the word, soldier.
The Romans salted their greens, believing this to counteract the natural bitterness, which is the origin of the word salad, salted.
That is a count of three very different words that have as their origin a word for salt — and twenty-two more chapters will probably tell me that’s just the beginning.
Another tidbit: in the Roman Empire, as part of the ongoing struggle between haves and have-nots, the privileged patricians “endeavored to keep [poor plebians] excluded. The Roman patrician often tried to keep his privileges by offering lesser rights to plebians. In this spirit, patricians insisted that every man had a right to salt. ‘Common salt,’ as it has come to be known, was a Roman concept.”
Every man had a right to salt. Those Romans. Salt was the way they kept the man down. Kinda crazy, as I drive through streets strewn with the corrosive stuff on a daily basis. Of course, I did hear the mayor of our city recently say, “That’s not salt on the streets. It’s money.” He has no idea how right he would be, had he lived a couple millennia ago.