A salty tale

Salt, symbolised by a square, is necessary for human existence. Too little makes you ill and too much can kill you, but you cannot live without it. It’s a dietary mineral and an important preservative, consisting of of sodium, chloride and some minerals, notably magnesium. Granted, sodium and chloride are two highly poisonous chemicals but together they form something vital to our existence. It is vital to all living creatures and was vital when mastadons roamed the earth around 12,000 years ago. The counting rings on their tusks proving it.

The Chinese Ba people, who lived 4,000 years ago, long extinct, must have lived in the upper and middle regions of the Yangtze river. An ancient tomb, 13 metres long and 9 meters wide, containing instruments for salt making was found in the region. Egyptian art records salt making 1,400 BC and the Chinese in 2,700 BC published the PENG-TZAO-KA-MU (the earliest pharmacological ‘handbook’). The discussion centred mainly around 40 kinds of salt!! Four “salt men” were discovered in the ancient salt mine of Cher-Abad in Iran around 1996. The samples were sent to the Oxford and Cambridge universities for age and DNA analysis – results showed two men from the Parthinian era (150 BC – 226 AD) and the other two from the Achaemenid period (648 BC -330 BC).

Today table salt is cheap and easily available even though the finer salts are more difficult to get hold of and are usually pricey – that, in itself, making it all the more desirable. I love discovering different kinds of salt and then tasting it and I find myself adding salt to the list of things that I want when someone close to me travels – to the extent that perfume has been firmly scrapped off the list.

Flaky British maldon sea salt is my favourite and we are able to buy it locally very easily. I have tasted the Sicilian sea salt from Trapani on numerous occasions and it is excellent – as is the cloud light fleur de sel which my daughter often brings me from Europe – an absolute treat. I have sampled the Indian black salt on more than one occasion (actually it’s not quite black, more a purple/blue) and very fine. Since texture is very important to me and the feel of the salt between my fingers and on my tongue is part of the tasting process, it didn’t blow me over. In the good Thai restaurants here the snow white Thai salt is often served. South Africans are obsessed with food and never settle for second grade – why should they when there is so much to discover in their own country. South African coarse Velddrif salt is relatively unknown and would be perfect for the large German pretzels that I love to buy at the bakeries in Germany – hot and crunchily salty! It is a delicious crisp salt offered in a variety of textures and qualities. I have often looked for the light grey salt which gets it’s colour from the minerals at the bottom of the salt layers, but have never been able to find it. I’ve read about Korean salt, roasted in bamboo,

red Hawain Salt which gets the colour from the algae in the red salt pools and the black lava salt which is black from the lava and can’t wait to try them. Maras in Peru brings it’s own salt to the table with a pinkish colour and a definite after taste – I had it only once when I went to a ‘braai’ at the home of a friend who had lived in Peru for many years. No matter how many experts tell me that this is impossible, I do taste it – and if it is all in the mind, thank God for mine. Oshima Island Blue Label salt is the rarest in the world, the most expensive and damned difficult to get hold of. I have never had the privilege of sampling it

Imagine food without salt …….. if push comes to shove I’d sacrifice everything else – but please, not the salt. Or the olive oil ……….. and maybe some lemon. Pepper would be great and cardamom a must …….

4 Comments

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4 responses to “A salty tale

  1. Me again. Thought you might be interested to read about the salt tasting we had with a bunch of food bloggers in London a while back:
    http://cooksister.typepad.com/cook_sister/2006/11/london_food_blo.html

    Also, I assume from the things I’ve read that you are South African? If so, would you like me to add you to the South African food and wine blog directory:
    http://cooksister.typepad.com/sa_food_and_wine/2008/05/directory-of-sa.html

    No pressure – it’s entirely up to you. Feel free to e-mail me to discuss.

  2. Yes – actually both South African and Italian. I left you an answer on the blog – thanks so much for the link and the advice. Sweet of you.

  3. mark

    Fantastic reading, you have really done your homework. Its been a pleasure reading your articles,and i hope to be able to join your blog in the near future.I will tell all my “foody freinds ” as well.Good luck and dont stop writing.Best regards
    Mark.

  4. Well, I don’t know about join, but it would be super to see you again!

    I certainly won’t – I love it!

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