Is Salt a Spice?

We all know salt! It is almost on every table. We use it without thinking! Food without salt usually tastes blank. Where does salt come from?

Salt production in 1670.
Salt production in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt (1670)

Salt is both a seasoning and condiment. Then, is salt considered a spice? The answer is no, salt is not a spice or herb since both of which are from plants. Salt is a worldwide popular seasoning, yet it is not a spice. Instead, it is an organic mineral.

History of Salt

The Egyptians were the first to realize the preservation possibilities of salt. Sodium draws the bacteria-causing moisture out of foods, drying them and making it possible to store meat without refrigeration for extended periods of time.

Egyptian Mummies were packed in salt, too. In fact, when mummies were shipped down the Nile as cargo, they were taxed in the “salted meat” bracket.

How did ancient populations get their salt? The Shangxi province of China has a salt lake, Yuncheng, and it’s estimated that wars were being fought over control of its salt reserves as early as 6000 B.C. Other populations relied on salt mines, sea water, saltwater marshes and following animal tracks. All creatures rely on salt to survive and animals always know where to find it!

Salt is an essential mineral for all cooks and chefs
Salt is essential for any cook or chef

Functions of Salt

Salt Enhances Flavour. While spices and herbs add flavours to food, salt has special flavouring functions. Obviously salt adds a 'salty' flavour to food. Salt also intensifies sweetness when used in small amounts on certain foods.

Salt Enhances Texture. When large salt crystals are added to meat at the right time, the salt draws moisture from the meat and makes it softer. Salt also is used in the making of cheese and processed meats, such as ham and sausages, because of it's gelatinization of proteins.

Salt is the oldest method of preserving foods, especially meats. Salt is the best moisture absorber. Moisture supports microbes that cause spoilage of foods.

Unlike most spices and herbs salt is nutritionally essential. Most salt is simply sodium chloride. Humans need both sodium and chloride to survive. Also, most table salts contain iodine, which is another essential chemical element which eliminates many other conditions.

Interesting Facts About Salt

  • An ancient practice in time of war was salting the earth: scattering salt around in a defeated city to prevent plant growth.
  • Evidence shows that Neolithic people of the Precucuteni Culture were boiling the salt-laden spring water through the process of briquetage to extract the salt as far back as 6050 BC.
  • The word salary comes from the Latin word for salt.
  • The word salad literally means "salted", and comes from the ancient Roman practice of salting leaf vegetables.
  • In 1930, Mahatma Gandhi led a crowd of 100,000 protestors on the "Dandi March", during which they made their own salt from the sea as a demonstration of their opposition to the colonial salt tax.
  • Salt is essential to the health of humans and other animals, and it is one of the five basic taste sensations.
  • Iodine is an important micronutrient for humans. Iodine deficiency affects about two billion people around the world and is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation.
  • In "doubly fortified salt", both iodide and iron salts are added. The latter alleviates iron deficiency anaemia, which interferes with the mental development of an estimated 40% of infants in the developing world.
  • Since taste and aroma compounds are often detectable by humans in minute concentrations, sea salt may have a more complex flavor than pure sodium chloride when sprinkled on top of food.
  • As a flavoring, salt enhances the taste of other foods by suppressing the bitterness of those foods making them more palatable and relatively sweeter.
  • In many East Asian cultures, salt is not traditionally used as a condiment. In its place, condiments such as soy sauce, fish sauce and oyster sauce have a high sodium content and fill a similar role to table salt in western cultures.
  • Only about 6% of the salt manufactured in the world is used in food. Of the remainder, 12% is used in water conditioning processes, 8% goes for de-icing highways and 6% is used in agriculture.
Himalayan salt is halite with a distinct pink color

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