Salt: The Rock of Life
Salt: The Rock of Life
It is the only rock we eat, and it is critical for life. The story of humanity cannot be told without it.
No single food commodity has had nearly as much influence on civilizations, economies, religions, or language. Wars have erupted over it, and it has brought combat to a screeching halt. It is the stuff of life and death. Our body even makes a specific hormone just for it. It's salt, and it's impossible to make a decent meal without it.
A Pinch Of Salt
The first state tax on any commodity trade was likely a salt tax levied by emperor Yu of the Xia dynasty around 2000 BC. It would become so lucrative that it funded most of the construction costs for the Great Wall of China centuries later.
In 1286, France introduced the gabelle, a set of salt taxes and regulations established across the country but bitterly despised by the people. Not only did these laws increase the price of salt, but they indirectly led to the incarceration of thousands of salt smugglers who attempted to bring it between jurisdictions for a profitable markup. It was no minor issue. The tension with the monarchy over-rules and taxes on salt would eventually play a significant role in instigating the French Revolution.
Even much much later in 1930, Gandhi led thousands on the historic 240 miles Salt March to protest Britain's grip on India. Not only did the colonists have a monopoly on all salt sales in the country, but they added a steep tax on every purchase. Images of the Salt March drew international sympathy far and wide for India's independence movement.
What Does Salt Do For Us
In our present world, salt scarcity isn't known by many. For many of us, especially those with high blood pressure, getting too much dietary sodium is a concern. Without exception, we all need at least some salt to function.
As an essential electrolyte, sodium works with its sister mineral potassium to regulate electrical charges and fluid balance all over the body. Roughly 85% of it can be found in the blood and the lymph, making it a decidedly extracellular mineral. While it primarily resides outside of our cells, it is essential to move nutrients and fluids into cells. Water without at least trace amounts of salt won't quench your thirst or hydrate your cells. Hospitals use a saline drip, instead of plain desalinated water, for precisely this reason.
Aside from fluid balance, hydration, and cellular absorption, sodium is also critical for the firing of the nerve signals, the production of stomach acid, and for contraction of muscles.
Many Grains of Salt
Hopi legend states that the Warrior Twins hid salt and made humanity work to unearth it and work for it we certainly did. If there is any single factor that has changed between salt’s rich history and its role in our lives today, it is the issue of scarcity. Modern excavation technology has revealed seemingly endless underground salt mines. So while salt is undeniably precious, we don’t have to worry about running out. We almost certainly won’t have to go to war over it.
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