The word “salary” comes from “salt” and indicates the historic value placed on this important commodity.  Used as a method of trade and currency, the role of salt in the history of civilization cannot be overstated.  Join Active Minds as we tell the story of salt, from its key role in preserving food, to its influence in political conflict, to modern angles including gourmet salt and health concerns surrounding high blood pressure.  It’s a salty tale indeed!

Key Lecture Points

  • Salt is one of the few minerals that are both abundant and useful.  It is made up of sodium and chloride and is found all over the world.  It is produced by mining and by solar evaporation.  Salt is necessary for both human and animal life.  It has thousands of uses but is most commonly used as a winter road deicer and as a food preservative and seasoning.
  • Salt has been prized since ancient times for its ability to preserve food.  It was also commonly used as an antiseptic.  Through history salt has been a religious and ceremonial metaphor because of its ability to preserve, prevent decay and keep its essence—salt can be dissolved into a liquid and then evaporated back to crystals.
  • Salt has played key roles in world history from the rise of Venice as the major trading city between Europe and Constantinople to the bitterly hated French salt tax that was a major grievance against the monarchy before the French Revolution to being a military strategy to defeat the South in the American Civil War and the spark that set off the Indian civil disobedience movement and the Indian fight for independence.
  • For decades federal health authorities have advised Americans to cut their sodium intake.  Although no one disputes that too much salt can raise blood pressure, new evidence raises the question:  how much is too much?  The best way to reduce sodium intake is to cook from scratch as much as possible—75% of the sodium in US diets comes from restaurant meals and processed foods.
  • Salt therapy is gaining popularity as a way to relieve allergies and skin conditions like eczema.

Exploration Questions

  • Why is salt important for animal and human health?
  • Describe three historical events that were influenced by salt.

Reflective Questions

  • Do you think health warnings, like the new sodium rule in New York City, will change how much sodium Americans consume?  Why?  Why not? Do you use nutritional labels and warnings?  Why? Why not?
  • Does your family have any unusual salt traditions or uses for salt?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Kurlansky, Mark. Salt: A World History.  Penguin Books, 2003.  496 pages.  The author gives an entertaining view of world history told through the story of salt.  The reader learns how this common condiment has shaped civilization, politics and even our language.
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  • Bilderback, Leslie.  Salt: The Essential Guide to Cooking with the Most Important Ingredient in Your Kitchen.  St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016.  224 pages. This book describes specialty salts and how to use them in your cooking.
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