More than a pinch of information

Color me weird but I love a good history book.  Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky is just the kind of history-nerd book that fills that desire. It was chock full of great historical data about that very common, yet very necessary of spices – salt.

I’m sure you’ve heard that salt has played an important role throughout history, but never like this.  Did you know that a Chinese tax on salt and iron was used to build the  Great Wall? Governments throughout history have sought control of their people by controlling the trade and price of salt. Salt too was instrumental in the Chinese invention of gunpowder. Salt mining led to the discovery and use of natural gas. Roads were developed primarily to make transfer of salt easier.

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea – Isak Dinesen

Salt is responsible for the growth of food storage and the resulting expansion of humans to every corner of the world. Whether it was drying or pickling, salt made it all possible. Entire civilizations grew and fell based on access to salt. It was only relatively recent that it was discovered is available all over the world. How many millions of lives have been destroyed or saved by people fighting over access to salt?

Many historical traditions revolve around salt – tossing salt over your shoulder – the salt covenant – the bread and salt tradition – the use of salt to protect children and ward off evil spirits – referring to someone as “salt of the earth” or “worth his salt” – and many, many more. Words like salary, soldier, salad, salsa, salami, sausage, sauce, silt, soused  and many more are based on the role salt plays in them.

Did you know that the “correct” way to touch salt and apply to food is with the middle two fingers only? If a uses his thumb when serving salt, his children will die, his pinky finger will cause poverty and his index finger will cause him to become a murderer! That’s pretty intense stuff.

Salt created roads for transportation. It was the reason many civilizations rose to power and fell into obscurity. Countless wars were fought over it and salt was the key to building large armies through food preservation. In fact, the single biggest development in warfare itself (gunpowder) was created using salt.

Kurlansky brings life to something that plays an important role in our history as well as the everyday life of all. Yes, he spends a lot of time talking about regional recipes and that feels more like filler than real information. Yes, it would have avoided being a bit boring in the middle if shortened, but overall it is a very interesting book.

by Chris Doelle

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