The Salt Of The Earth

This Christmas I received several food hampers.  The fact that I’m wasting away to a block of flats and will be eligible for my own post code seemed to elude my gift-giving friends.  The common denominator in each hamper was designer salt.

Granted, you could hardly give someone a pack of common, garden-variety salt as a yuletide gesture.  But intriguing and useful as it may be, salt is a time bomb.

“Salt “, according to food author Margaret Visser, “is the policeman of taste:  it keeps the various flavors of a dish in order and restrains the stronger from tyrannizing over the weaker.”

Historically salt has been essential for our health. Not only does it perform important functions within our bodies, it also plays a key role in keeping our food safe to eat – and it has infiltrated the vernacular extensively.

Salt was one of the earliest preservatives of food – and the ability to preserve food arguably is the foundation of civilization.  It eliminated the dependence on the seasonal availability of food and it allowed travel over long distances.

During the late Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages salt was a precious commodity. The word “salary” comes from the Latin word for salt …. Salarium, in ancient Rome soldiers were given an allowance to buy salt.

In Ancient Egypt, slaves were traded for salt, hence the expression: “not worth his salt”. Caravans consisting of as many as forty thousand camels crossed four hundred miles of the Sahara carrying salt to inland markets – sometimes trading salt for slaves.

The biblical expression from the New Testament: “salt of the earth”, means a person of great goodness…and that it is just one of over 30 phrases involving salt used in the bible. That’s certainly more than a pinch of the stuff.

Australians are consuming salt in similarly biblical proportions – maybe not enough to turn into a pillar of salt but certainly more than the one to two grams  recommended as the daily intake.   Dr Bruce Neal of the Australian Division of World Action on Salt (AWASH) and Senior Director of the George Institute of International Health reckons that the average Aussie intake would be closer to eight to ten grams daily.

“The effect of excess salt consumption is to drive up blood pressure and increase the risks of stroke, heart attack and other vascular diseases. Blood pressure rises by one third to a half throughout life in most Australians and salt is one of the main reasons for this,” he says.

So Margaret Vissler’s further salty words: “It corrodes but preserves, desiccates but is wrested from the water…” rings true.

There are so many gourmet salts to tempt you too – pink Peruvian or Himalayan salt, Hawaiian red sea salt, fleur de sel, sel Gris, kosher salt, or you may prefer your salt smoked, truffled or saffroned  … it is all a matter of taste and budget.

But is one any better for you than another?  Dr Neal says ”They are simply a more expensive way to kill yourself”.    No thanks…just pass the pepper please I want to be in good nick when I walk in front of a bus.

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