Friday 23 June 2023




      Salt being transporte by camel train on Lake Assale (Karum) in Ethiopia                                  2017

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Salt is like good humour, and nearly everything is better for a pinch of it.’ Louisa May Alcott (1832 – 1888)

Before the advent of industrialisation, the procuring of salt in the immense quantities required for food preservation was labour-intensive and expensive.

                    Salt farmers harvesting salt in Thailand 2011

                            Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Iron Age Britons produced salt through evaporation, boiling salt water in clay pots over open fires.  Later, Romans boiled larger volumes of water in large lead-lined pans.  Salt routes existed from pre-historic times to move salt from the point of production to areas requiring it.

In the Middle Ages (5th to 15th centuries) roads were built to transport salt. Some of them are still in existence. The Old Salt Route (Alte Salzstraße) in Northern Germany was a mediaeval trade route between the salt mines of Lüneburg in the north and Lübeck on the Baltic Sea coast. Another famous salt road is the Via Salaria which carried Roman salt from Ostia to other parts of Italy.

            Salt harvesting, Lake Bumbunga, South Australia, late 1940s

                             Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Droitwich Salt Way was a trade route to the south-east of England. Brine bubbled up from the ground naturally and the salt content was twenty times greater than in sea water. The Salt Way was used from the Iron Age and throughout the Roman and mediaeval periods. Today it is a public footpath between Droitwich Spa and Blisworth in Northamptonshire.

Badwater Salt Flats, Death Valley, California, 2020
  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Historically, salt was an important and very valuable commodity and it production was strictly regulated. In the 6th century Moorish merchants traded one ounce of salt for one ounce of gold and in Africa, cakes of salt were used as currency.

                              Salt field worker, Slovenia, 2009
                             Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 Salt taxes have caused unrest across the world. In France the oppressive tax, or gabelle, on salt caused resentment and was one of the causes of the French Revolution (1789 – 1799) The gabelle was abolished in 1790 but reinstated by Napoleon in 1806 to raise money for his military campaigns. It was eventually abolished in 1945.

Meanwhile, in India during the British Raj, 1858 – 1947, the British Government had a monopoly on salt production and distribution. It was heavily taxed and became a substantial source of revenue for Britain.  Indians considered the tax unjust and repressive.  

                     Sifto Salt Mine, Goderich, Ontario, Canada, 2018

 Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In 1930 Mahatma Gandhi led a march to the coast at Dandi to protest against the ban on Indians making or selling salt. When he reached the coast after 23 days, he violated the law by making salt at the seashore. Thereafter, people across the country followed Gandhi’s example and began producing their own salt. Gandhi’s march became known as the Salt March or Salt Satyagraha and was an important turning point in the struggle for independence.

                            National Salt Satyagraha Memorial, 2020

 Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

There is a mistaken belief that Roman soldiers were paid in salt rather than money. They were certainly issued with salt as part of their recompense but it was not their only payment. Salarium (salt ration) is the origin of the word ‘salary’.

 Himalayan salt, 2020

 Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

There are many beliefs and superstitions associated with salt, the commonest probably being that it is bad luck to spill salt. The ancient Sumerians negated it by throwing a pinch of the spilled salt over their left shoulder. The ritual spread to the Egyptians, the Assyrians and later, the Greeks. It reflected how much salt is valued.

In the later Christian tradition, spilling salt was thought to be an invitation to the Devil to enter your life and cause havoc. The Devil lurks behind one’s left shoulder, waiting for a way in. Tossing a pinch of salt directed it into the Devil’s eyes, making him blind and powerless. Some people believed that throwing salt over one’s shoulder was an act of purification and healing.

Nowadays, people do it ‘for luck’ without thinking of the deeper meaning behind the act.

A man ‘not worth his salt’ is a person considered unreliable or untrustworthy, whereas a man described as ‘the salt of the earth’ is dependable and worthy. In mediaeval times, when salt was a precious commodity, it was placed at the centre of the dining table. The nobles would sit ‘above the salt’, nearest the most important diners, and those of lesser, more ignominious rank would be seated ‘below the salt’.

                                    Rock salt, central Poland, 2014
                             Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed salt was sacred and used it in religious ceremonies and sacrifices. Salt is also used in Shintoism as a purifier and Buddhists use salt to ward off evil. Judeo-Christian traditions used salt to purify and to finalise contracts.

However, salt could be used in a destructive way. An ancient military practice involved ‘salting the earth. Salt was spread on the sites of razed cities by their conquerors. It was a curse to prevent repopulation and meant that no crops could be grown. It was an act designed to reinforce the victor’s power and his desire to eradicate his enemies.

                                        Rock salt, Pakistan, 2017
                             Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Finally, if you’re advised to take something ‘with a pinch of salt’, it’s a warning that what you’re being told may not be entirely believable. It is not clear how the phrase originated but some have credited Pliny the Elder with it. When engaged in writing the first encyclopaedia, he included a cure for poison, in which one ingredient was a grain of salt. Over time, the grain grew into a pinch.


  1. Thank you, this was quite informative, though I knew some of it already. I'm pleased to see an Australian photo in the mix.

  2. One of my treats is a box of Maldon salt. It's local to here, Maldon is, and I like the salt very much. It's soft and flaky rather than hard crystals. xx

  3. Just passing.....
    Back home in Sicily...We have a High-quality sea salt
    produced in the salt pans on the Western coast of Sicily
    by natural evaporation....
    This salt is ground, without washing or refining, and is fine
    enough to use straight from the pot....
    And is considered by renowned Chefs as the best and most
    versatile sea salt for any use in the kitchen....!

  4. Very interesting. We pass by a salt works with evaporative salt pans on our way to my sister's. I should research them. We have some pink Himalayan salt in our salt grinder but only because it looks pretty. Salt is not used in our cooking directly but of course some gets in from whatever is added. If you are a great user of salt, iodised salt is a good choice. While I never add salt to anything, I do like the salty taste in processed food such as butter, bacon and other foods.

    1. Oh yes, for some reason I now really feel that Slovenia should be on my bucket list to visit.

  5. I like salt, too, but rarely add it to food and never cook with it, apart from roast potatoes, which we sometimes have. Salt is addictive, though . . .

  6. I don't know what country you are based in Jabblog, or what your blog identity used to be as I think perhaps you had another identity once because Jabblog appears a lot now but you are clearly not new to blogging, but the salt industry in Britain is still significant, based in Cheshire. You have not shown any British salt mines here.

  7. My reply disappeared - Blogger playing up again!
    Rachel, I have always been jabblog and I am British (English).
    I didn't include any photographs of British salt mining because I didn't find any. Good to know that Cheshire is doing its bit . :-)


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