Chapter 15: Salt

Salt has proven itself worthy as one of the most essential molecules throughout the course of history. The discovery of this magnificent molecule has numerous uses that has helped many in the past, present, and likely the future. Without the implementation of sodium chloride, or table salt, into our diet, our body would not be able to function properly on a daily basis and eventually lead to death if not careful. Currently, salt is a relatively cheap commodity that can be produced in large quantities. In the past, salt was expensive and not as prominent as it is now. Some of its uses are quite diverse, including the use of salt as an ice preventative and food preserver.

Sodium chloride is composed of positively charged sodium ions and negatively charged chloride ions that are held together in a cubic arrangement by strong attractive forces between the positive and negative charges. Halite, the mineral form of sodium chloride, is way more soluble in water than other minerals. Sodium chloride dissolves in water because of the chemical composition of water and salt. Water molecules are partially charged. The oxygen side of a water molecule is partially negative and the hydrogen side is partially positive. The partial charges of the water molecules act in a similar manner to the charged ions in salt. The ions in salt are randomly dispersed in water. This is what ultimately leads to the solubility of sodium chloride.

Also, sodium chloride has been used as a starting material to produce sodium carbonate (Na2CO3), which is more commonly known as soda ash. Soda ash was used in the making of soap as the demand of soap increased. Sodium chloride was converted to sodium carbonate using ammonia gas and limestone in a chemical process known as the Solvay process.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the mining of salt was essential to Europeans and valued as “white gold”. Venice began a community of people that extracted the salt from brines of the areal lagoons. Also, Salzburg, Austria provided salt mines that were often occupied by tourists. Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is currently the largest known saltpan. Tourists typically stay in this hotel, which is completely made from salt.

Salt has been an important trading commodity since ancient civilizations were in full effect. Ancient Egyptians used salt in the process of mummification. Ostia was a large saltwork located at the mouth of the River Tiber. Salt was transported on the Via Salaria, the salt road, to get salt to the coast of Rome. Also, salt was key for one of the greatest trade triangles and the spread of Islam to the western coast of Africa. Timbuktu was a major trading post of this time, which often exchanged gold from West Africa for salt located in the Sahara. Capturing an enemy’s salt supply was regarded as a military tactic. During the American Revolution, there were salt shortages that resulted from a British embargo of imports from the West Indies and Europe into the previous colony.

Taxing salt was popular throughout history because of the human need for it. Everyone needed salt and there were no alternative substitutes available. In 2000 B.C., China began the taxation of salt that would spark more salt taxes later down the line. Emperor Hsia Yu ordered the imperial court to get supplies of salt from the Shantung Province through taxation. After Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C., Egyptian and Syrian officials collected a salt tax that was imposed originally by Greek administration.

The use of salt has continued to grow and maintained its prominence throughout the world. Salt is instilled in the homes of many across the nation as a flavor enhancer. Also, salt is used to help prevent ice from forming on the roads. Many people in the past would not of seen this type of improvement as far as the uses of salt goes. Since salt was expensive, salting the roads were likely not even a thought to those in the past. Salting foods to preserve them are not as prominent as they once were due to the introduction of refrigerants, which eliminated the preservation use of salt.

Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson provided intriguing insight on the relationship between salt and gold. The authors state that salt is sometimes valued higher than gold and salt is cheap, readily available, and commonplace. Since salt is extremely vital to our health and it can be used in a variety of ways, it can be considered more highly valued than gold, especially in ancient times. I also agree to their point concerning salt as commonplace in our world today. Nearly everyone uses salt daily in some form or fashion.

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5 thoughts on “Chapter 15: Salt

  1. fluffymonstah

    The wealth of information this post exhibits on the historical impact, chemistry, and practical uses of salt is simply spectacular. This is a very fine post for a very fine person such as yourself.

  2. sboehms2015

    I think this was well written, but aren’t there salts other than sodium chloride? Why only mention NaCl? Also, in the final paragraph I was a bit confused. Is salt still valued higher than gold? If it’s so commonplace why are we valuing it more than a precious metal? Other than that, great post!

    • alexanderkee413

      There are different types of salts that are known but NaCl was really the only type of salt mentioned in the book from a chemical and historical standpoint. Salt was considered more highly valued than gold in ancient times and salt is currently commonplace. Salt is not currently valued higher than gold anymore in my opinion or the author’s opinion. I apologize for not making that statement clearer in the blog. Thanks for helping me clear that up!

  3. mrakashpatel

    Ooh! Aah! (am I spelling that right?)

  4. mrakashpatel

    Just kidding! This post provided a wealth of information on Salt, proving to me that you know your stuff. I commend you for that, and look forward to reading your next post.

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