Facts That Figure: Salt

Facts That Figure: Salt

By: C.G. Hoffman

“Like rubbing salt in a wound.” “Take it with a grain of salt.” “The salt of the earth.” Salt is one of the most essential components of life, yet too much of it can be harmful. What role does salt play in our daily lives besides for making our soup taste good?

  • What’s the connection between your salary and salt? In ancient Rome, salt was considered such a precious commodity, that soldiers were paid their salary in salt. The word salary comes from the Latin word “salarium” whose root word is sal, meaning salt.
  • Salt plays an important role in Judaism. We dip our bread in salt to remember the korbanos, which were salted on the mizbayach. Meat is made kosher by salting it, thus removing the blood.
  • Where does salt come from? Technically, all salt is sea salt, even table salt. Salt which is mined from rock (and is called halite in its mineral form) is also formed by the evaporation of salt water.
  • There are many different varieties of salt, and they come in every imaginable color and texture common white of table salt, as well as pink Himalayan salt (which actually comes from Pakistan) and even black and red varieties.
  • Salt-curing meat (and other foods) is one of the oldest methods of food preservation, occurring well before refrigeration. Microbes that can spoil food need moisture to grow, and salt acts as a preservative by drawing moisture out of food. 
  • Jewish housewives in Eastern Europe became adept at preserving vegetables from their summer gardens to supplement their meager diets in the winter. Vinegar was expensive, so poor Jews would pickle both vegetables and fish in a salty brine. Jews in America were so closely associated with pickles that the NYC Board of Education even launched their school lunch program as a way to wean off immigrant children from their habit of eating pickles.
  • Jewish immigrants to America brought with them their favorite foods, and many of them became part of the American food scene. Pastrami was popularized by Rumanian Jews, and is made using a lengthy process of salt brining, seasoning and smoking. Herring was everywhere on the Lower East Side in the early 20th century, with children hawking their mother’s homemade salted herring from pushcarts. Herring was so prevalent, it gave rise to the Yiddish saying ״במקום שאין בו איש - איז העררינג אויך א פיש!״
  • A healthy, active adult needs between 200 and 600 mg of sodium per day. The American Heart Association recommends an ideal limit of 1,500 mg. for most adults. To put that into perspective: That perennial camp favorite/staple/basic food group, instant noodle soup, contains 1,200 mg. of salt per serving!

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