News

When It Rains, It Pours

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | January 10, 2009

"Take it with a grin of salt." 
Yogi Berra

If I were to ask you what is the most popular food spice, would you know? Would you also know that without this spice all known living creatures would die, including humans? It can be found on most tables every time we eat. The technical name is sodium chloride or NaCl. Most of us simply call it salt. 

Salt has had a significant place in human history dating as far back to China in 6000 B.C. when it was harvested from the surface of the salt lake, Yuncheng. During the third Millennium B.C. the Egyptians and Phoenicians used salt for curing the meat of birds and fish. 

At times, the troops in the Roman army were paid in salt and this is the origin of the word "salary" and in the French the word "soldier." Even the word "salad" literally means "salted" because of the ancient Roman practice of salting leafy vegetables. 

Mahatma Gandhi lead a long parade called "Dandi March" against taxes levied by the British for the export of salt. His peaceful march to help the poor "salt-makers" was a huge success in bringing millions of people together as one. 

Salt has a prominent place in world religions. The Hindus use salt in particular religious ceremonies like housewarmings and weddings. In the native Japanese religion, Shinto, salt is used for ritual purification of locations and people, such as Sumo wrestling. In Aztec mythology, their fertility goddess presided over salt and salt water. 

The Bible has over 40 references to salt. The earliest reference is found in the story of Lot's wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt because of her disobedience. King Abimelech destroyed Shechem when he "sowed salt on it." In the New Testament Jesus referred to his followers as the "salt of the earth" and the apostle Paul encouraged Christians to "let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt." 

There are three methods used to produce salt: solar evaporation, vacuum evaporation and rock mining. The oldest method of salt production is the solar evaporation method which captures salt water in shallow ponds where the sun evaporates most of the water. 

Another method of salt production is the evaporation of salt brine by the steam of heat in large evaporators called vacuum pans. This method yields a very high purity and finely textured salt. 

The other method of producing salt is underground mining. Salt may appear in veins like coal. Large machines travel through vast cave-like passageways to remove the rock salt. 

If you want to try something exotic, check out the world of gourmet salt. All kinds are available like Himalayan Dark Pink Salt, Australian Murray River Salt, Hawaiian Bamboo Sea Salt, South African Sea Salt Flakes, and Cyprus Black Sea Salt Flakes, to name just a few. 

Or you can try flavored salt like vanilla salt, fennel thyme salt, caraway salt, smoked paprika salt or sumac pepper salt. 

Salt has also found its way into our language. We encourage the gullible to take things "with a grain of salt." People who don't enjoy their work speak of returning to the "salt mines." If we are good employees we are "worth our salt" but if we harm someone we "rub salt in their wounds." 

Did you ever wonder why the Morton Salt Company, today's leading producer and marketer of salt, began an advertising campaign in 1911 with a little girl holding an umbrella and underneath was this slogan, "When It Rains, It Pours"? The motto actually assures the user that Morton salt can be poured, even when humidity or moisture is in the air. 

For Roman historian Pliny the Elder, "civilized life" was "impossible without salt." 

Next time we have a meal with a friend, we should all remember this Italian proverb, "Give neither counsel nor salt 'til you are asked for it.'" 

Think about it.


Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu