The Forgotten Importance Of Salt

ISBN: 0142001619

Today you take for granted that salt is cheap and plentiful, but this is only a recent phenomenon. In the past, salt was like petroleum oil in its importance to humanity. This book dived into that history.

Salt is so common, so easy to obtain, and so inexpensive that we have forgotten that from the beginning of civilization until about 100 years ago, salt was one of the most sought-after commodities in human history.


Where people ate a diet consisting largely of grains and vegetables, supplemented by the meat of slaughtered domestic farm animals, procuring salt became a necessity of life, giving it great symbolic importance and economic value. Salt became one of the first international commodities of trade; its production was one of the first industries and, inevitably, the first state monopoly.

Ancient empires had a surprisingly elaborate system of mining and procuring salt that was not only essential to commerce, but also to feed a growing human population, which required a higher per capital salt amount than today because food had to be preserved in it. Many of history’s wars were funded by revenue gained from salt taxes.

There are mountains in which the salt goes down very deep, particularly at Wieliczka and Bochnia. Here on the fifth of January, 1528, I climbed down fifty ladders in order to see for myself and there in the depths observed workers, naked because of the heat, using iron tools to dig out a most valuable hoard of salt from these inexhaustible mines, as if it had been gold and silver.— Olaus Magnus, A Description of the Northern Peoples, 1555

American slaves were contracted out to work in salt mines:

The saltworks themselves were also dangerous, especially for slaves who were not trained in this industry. Boilers exploded, and sometimes workers would slip into near-boiling pots of brine. The owners sometimes sued the salt makers to be compensated for the loss or damage of their human property.

The book shared numerous ancient recipes (perhaps too numerous) that showed the reader how our ancestors salted meats and fish before cooking.

After having washed seven or eight anchovies, let them soak several minutes in water to desalinate; having separated the fillets from their bones place them in a dish with several spoonfuls of olive oil , a pinch of pepper, two or three garlic cloves chopped fine, you could also add a splash of vinegar. Cut a slice about one inch off the top of a pain de ménage [or pain ordinaire—a long, round, typical French bread]. This is the best choice of bread because it does not easily crumble.

The most glaring flaw is that the author did not describe the effect of modern refrigeration on the salt industry. I fail to understand how a history book on salt could omit this.

Salt consumption is declining in most of the world. The average twentieth-century European consumed half as much salt as the average nineteenth-century European.

Overall it was an enjoyable and entertaining book, especially considering that it’s about something as common as salt, but at times it did feel like a patchwork of random stories with too much filler in terms of recipes. Nonetheless, men interested in history and food will enjoy it.

Read More: “Salt: A World History” on Amazon

58 thoughts on “The Forgotten Importance Of Salt”

  1. Good book. Read it years ago and enjoyed it then. Might have to grab another copy (old copy with ex-wife…)

  2. KFC certainly hasn’t forgotten the importance of salt. Their chips are pretty much all salt and hardly any potato.

  3. You have the strangest mind with all sorts of curiosities in there. I wonder will the rise of fat positive women and their inevitably bulbous off-spring lead to a stabilization in salt production?

  4. I’ve read that salt was used as currency. That’s where the word salary came from. From “sal”.

  5. I enjoyed this book a lot. I particularly liked reading about Mahatma Gandhi’s march–the author’s description was very engaging. I read another book along similar lines that’s worth checking out: Napoleon’s Buttons, which is about “17 molecules that changed history.”

  6. We get our word “salary” from the Latin word for salt, since that’s what soldiers were paid in.
    Somewhere in Poland-ish, there’s a whole city carved out of a salt mine.

    1. Wieliczka, the author of the book quoted a guy talking about the mine. Would be a sight to see.

    1. Don’t forget pepper as well. For centuries the price of pepper was pegged (ounce for ounce) to the price of gold.

  7. If you enjoyed this book, check out The Chocolate Wars (Cadbury vs. Hersheys). A very interesting story about the pacifist Quaker Cadburys who turned violent in order to fight the Hershey empire.
    Salt is interesting. I recently purchased a product called real salt (made by Redmond) and they claim it is superior as it has the necessary minerals that your body needs that refined salt does not offer. For 10 bucks or so I figured I would try it. There is also some really pricey evaporated Celtic salt that is evaporated from French ponds that my local overpriced grocer sells. I am experimenting now with cooking fish filets packed in salt, a recipe I found in Joy of Cooking. I would have liked to learn more about the properties of salt, such as, I believe it can keep meats fresh and sanitary at room temperature for months. Oh well, guess I should read a book on it myself 🙂

    1. COD: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World Book by Mark Kurlansky and A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage are also good choices in that food history vein of books.

  8. “if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?”
    increasingly sounds like a description of the sexual economy in recent times

  9. I understand that Rome’s location on the Via Salaria, a salt route used by the Sabines, was a factor in its early growth. Before Rome was a city, the salt route came down from the hills and ran through what later became the forum.

    1. And fats as well. “Science” has so fucked up people’s perceptions of decent, wholesome foods that served us for thousands of years that it’s not a surprise that there are so many processed food fatties out and about these days, with soaring blood pressures and awful cholesterol/triglyceride/lipid levels.
      If you eat like somebody in 1700, and work out a good amount, you’re zeroed in on near perfection, diet wise.
      Real butters, meats, salt, eggs, green leafy veges (most fruits were not part of a regular diet and the few that were, were seasonal) and whole grain bread with supper (in moderation at best), beer, wine and whiskey. There’s no improving on the original.

      1. you want cholesterol above 200.
        A friend worked in pharma; he told me they were lobbying the gov to get safe levels lowered from 200 to 170. A few months later, it was in the press, and resulted in something like 13 million new potential patients(ie, customers) for statin meds. It all about the money.

        1. The Lipid Hypothesis has been completely dis-proven. Only the sick-care industry and the government still promote that bullshit.
          Qui Bono?
          JG nailed it. I eat the same only no wheat.
          If you want to know why, just look into the hybridization of modern wheat and how differently it affects the body, compared with ancient varieties.
          Two good books:
          Wheat Belly
          Grain Brain.

        2. the sad thing about the wheat hybrid- it was created to help with the starvation problem at the time in china and india. I know they still grow the dwarf wheat in italy, but I have no idea how to get any stateside.

  10. If I’m not mistaken (and am not simply parroting a myth), part of the wages Romans paid their soldiers was in the form of physical salt. Hence why we still call it a “salary” (from ‘sale’, which means salt).

  11. Interesting too that salt is recovering from its demonization. According to health authorities in Canada, a) some people with certain conditions need more salt, and b) they are increasing the maximum daily allowance by a significant amount.

    1. It’s not only that, low salt diet are unhealthy for most people
      Only in the instance of treatment of salt sensitive people is a low salt diet linked to any health benefit.

    2. People tend to forget, or never learn, that the electricity in the body’s nervous system runs on salt like the electrolyte mix in a battery.

  12. I went to a Seal Salt Cave therapy session. It was a massage and spa place. The room was temperature/climate regulated to preserve the salt crystals. Apparently they were from the Himalayan area, and these particular salt crystals had 75+ trace minerals. So you sat there and inhaled them in for 1 hour.

    1. They’re two-legged pigs. Or pigs are four-legged women – depending on how you wish to look at it

    2. Salt is good for you unless you salt sensitive .
      All sugar including fructose from fruit , glucose from grains and potatoes, cause weight gain.
      American women are fat because they reduce their salt and red meat needlessly ,while sucking down organic fruit juices and Whole Foods Triple Grain bread.

      1. Are you sure about that? I thought salt was terrible for you in terms of blood pressure and basic hydration.

  13. Processed (table) salt contains 97.5 percent sodium chloride and the rest is man-made chemicals, such as moisture absorbents and flow agents. These are dangerous chemicals like ferrocyanide and aluminosilicate. A small amount of iodine may also be added.
    Himalayan Pink Salt, which is all-natural, contains 84% sodium chloride and 16% trace minerals. The minerals balance out the sodium chloride and prevent it from causing high blood pressure, as long as you’re using it in moderation of course. Processed table salt causes a rise in blood pressure because it doesn’t have the trace minerals that naturally occur, because they have been removed to make it white and pourable. Natural salt is actually good for you in the proper amounts.

  14. Here in Mexico, no one drinks the water.
    So they put flouride in the SALT.
    Flouride in the salt.

    1. I don’t touch salt with additives. I use sea salt produced in France (in Guérande) and other sea salt. It’s more expensive but worth it.

  15. Weirdest coincidence – I was reading that book, as part of “one book every two weeks” rule, which was inspired by you, Roosh. For others, this book highlights global socio-economy and politics are a product our thirst for commodities, both precious (gold) or unglamorous (salt or oil).

  16. Sometimes I wonder what happened to this website! This place was supposed to be where puas come in and discuss where and how to increase their notch count. Now we discuss how to enrich the mind of a man. Shame really…..

  17. I have salt from the Wieliczka mine in my grinder now. Almost out of the pouch of rough cut that I bought when I was down there last spring. What a fantastic place, if you have a chance go. The underground chapels are amazing, there is also concert hall in the mine as well with artwork carved into the salt walls and the most amazing chandelier carved from salt.

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