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Salt

A World History

By Mark Kurlansky
16-minute read
Audio available
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

Salt (2002) tells the fascinating story of this basic mineral, from its early uses in food preservation to its role as a precious commodity, driving trade and conquest. These blinks shed light on the political conflict sparked by society’s demand for salt as well as the environmental damage wrought by the salt industry.

  • People interested in the history of salt and its role in trade, war and revolutions
  • Readers fascinated by the unusual forces that shape history

Mark Kurlansky is a journalist who also writes fiction, children’s fiction and nonfiction books, having authored some ten bestsellers including Cod, also available in blinks.

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Salt

A World History

By Mark Kurlansky
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky
Synopsis

Salt (2002) tells the fascinating story of this basic mineral, from its early uses in food preservation to its role as a precious commodity, driving trade and conquest. These blinks shed light on the political conflict sparked by society’s demand for salt as well as the environmental damage wrought by the salt industry.

Key idea 1 of 10

Your personal survival depends on salt; human civilization has been shaped by this simple mineral.

Sitting on nearly every table in the Western world is a shaker of table salt. An ingredient that heightens the flavor of food, salt is truly commonplace and simple. Or is it?

Table salt is actually made up of two volatile chemical compounds. The first is a silvery white metal called sodium, also known as natrium or “Na” on the periodic table. Sodium alone is so unstable that it bursts into flame when it comes in contact with water!

Salt’s second component is chlorine, or “Cl.” When you add chlorine to water, this poisonous gas turns into a dangerous acid!

But when you combine chlorine with sodium, you get NaCl or sodium chloride – a stable, edible compound that we know as humble table salt.

Well, salt isn’t so humble – sodium chloride is of vital importance to our health. If you don’t eat enough salt, you may suffer from headaches or muscle weakness, and even die.

Thanks to sodium, your heart keeps beating, your nerves can send signals to each other, and your cells can feed themselves. You need salt to stay alive, yet your body can’t produce it. Worse, you lose salt everyday – through sweating, for instance.

You might also be surprised to hear that salt has shaped civilizations.

This mineral was the first international trade good and was even used as money because it was considered so precious. It was salt that gave humans a way to preserve food from spoiling.

Salt has also held many different cultural roles. Ancient Egyptians believed salt created sexual desire, so priests refused to eat it. In Judaism and Islam, salt is thought to protect against evil spirits. A similar belief existed in ancient Japan, which is why theater stages would be sprinkled with salt before performances.

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