White Gold - The Rise and Fall of Salt
Salt. The simplest of seasonings, its bland appearance belies a colourful past when it was more than an additive, it was a precious commodity that played an important part in the development of the ancient world.
Words by Natasha Were
Although it has received a fair amount of bad press in recent decades due to its ill effects on health, for most of human history salt was considered an extremely valuable commodity - as valuable as gold among ancient civilisations.
In the centuries prior to the invention of refrigeration, salt was primarily used to preserve food. This not only ensured there would be enough to eat during the cold winter months, it also allowed explorers to carry food with them on their voyages, enabling them to venture further afield, conquering new lands as they went. Roads were built to facilitate its transport, and people traded it for goods and services. The Romans are said to have paid their troops in salt - the origin of the modern word 'salary'.
Today, most of the salt we use is mined from underground salt deposits (rock salt), which is cheap and readily available. For a long time, however, the only way to obtain salt was through the backbreaking work of harvesting it from seawater. This was done by channelling seawater into shallow clay ponds where the sun and wind would evaporate the water, leaving a rich brine. The brine then had to be stirred - usually manually - until salt crystals formed. The crystals were then raked into piles and baked in the sun until hard.
With sun, sea and wind available in abundance year round in the Caribbean, many islands turned to salt production during the colonial era in order to supply ships with salt for their ocean crossings. Throughout the region, one finds cays, islands and low lying coastal areas named after the salt industries that once flourished there. Most of these fell into disuse when low cost table salt became available, but in recent years, the growing appreciation for gourmet, artisanal foods has revitalised small-scale sea salt production and a number of Caribbean islands now produce high quality sea salt.
Unlike mass-produced table salt, which is little more than sodium and chloride, sea salt, which undergoes minimal processing, contains a variety of minerals that are present in the sea from which it is harvested. These minerals - magnesium, potassium, iron and calcium - lend sea salt a complexity and depth of flavour that is prized by chefs and gourmands around the world. Because the concentration of minerals varies depending on the body of water in question, every sea salt has a subtly different taste. This is best appreciated when sprinkled over food just before serving, rather than using it to cook with.
Once upon a time referred to as 'white gold', salt has suffered quite a fall from grace, and is more often associated with health issues than acknowledged for the role it has played in human civilisation. A growing number, however, are realising that those crunchy white flakes are truly worth their salt.
Rub away rust
Mix one tablespoon lemon juice with two teaspoons salt until it forms a paste. With a cloth, use the paste to rub away rust on any metal surface.
In a rush for Happy Hour? In an ice bucket, layer ice and salt (about three tablespoons per layer) up the neck of the bottle, and then add water. After about ten minutes, your tipple will be chilled and ready to consume.
Gargling several times a day can alleviate the symptoms of a sore throat. Mix ½ teaspoon with ½ cup warm water and practice your Tuvan throat song.
Take out fish
Say goodbye to stinky fish odours by rubbing your hands with a lemon wedge dipped in salt.
Fresh from the shores of Bonaire, The Salt Shop produces completely natural sea salt-based products using only the sun, trade winds and organic additives. Choose from a selection of gourmet kitchen, bath and beauty products.
Produced entirely by hand using solar evaporation, Cayman Sea Salt captures delicious minerals from the Caribbean Sea for the purest of sea salt. Available as wedding or party favours, their personalised products are a unique island memento.
Turks & Caicos
In keeping with ancient tradition, Salt Cay Salt Works’ Fleur de Sel is handraked from the top layer of their sundried salt flats. Also offering flavoured salts and bath salts, all products come in stylish recycled and reusable bottles.
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