A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.


Salt is an ordinary hue less or white material usually present in the sea water as well as in dumps on the land. In fact, salt is a translucent and delicate mineral enclosing elements like sodium and chlorine. The chemical formula of salt is NaCl (sodium chloride) and the mineral is known as halite. Usually, pure salt is found in the structure of clear crystals in cube contour. However, impure or contaminated salt has a range of appearances varying from white to gray, yellow or sometimes even red. All animals, and this includes human beings require salt in the food they ingest. Salt has multiple utilities and in the food industry, it is basically used to add flavor as well as conserve foodstuff. The salt we consume is known as table salt and it has a white appearance.

It is interesting to note that each and every salt deposit is formed from salty water or brine from the oceans, seas and salt lakes. So much so that even the salt dumps present under the ground actually came into existence following the evaporation of the sea water millions of years back. Initially, people in the ancient periods collected salts from the arid costal regions, such as what lies around the Mediterranean Sea.

Right down the ancient ages, people have been using salt to add flavor to their food as well as to preserve different foodstuff. It is fascinating to note that many of the ancient trade route as well as the initial roads were set up just for carrying salt from their place of origin to different locations. In those times, salt was regard as a very precious mineral, so much so, that it was bartered for one ounce of gold! Many primeval civilizations even imposed taxes on salt trade. Although it may appear incredible, in primeval China, salt was used to manufacture coins, while people in the Mediterranean expanse prepared salt cakes and used them as currency.

Salt markets were set up in the earliest cities like Pisa, Genoa and Venice for large-scale as well as international trade of the mineral. For a long period, people used salt as it was found in the nature. However, from the 15th century onwards people started preparing salt by boiling brine or salty water collected from salt springs. This was particularly true for several European cities located near such salt springs or salt lakes. Three centuries later, around the 18th century, the process of preparing salt by boiling brine was enhanced as people replaced wood with coal as fuel. And since England had access to huge coal reserves and abundance of supply of the mineral, it eventually turned out to be the major salt producer in the world. England's dominance in salt production and trade was such that even the early European settlements in America relied on their supply of salt from Britain.

However, England's dominance in salt production received a setback following the Revolutionary War, as people in the United States set up several workshops for producing salt along the Atlantic coastline. Initially, they prepared salt by boiling the brine from the Atlantic Ocean, but following the discovery of salt springs in New York, at a place that is presently known as the city of Syracuse, people constructed the Erie Canal. With the advent of the 19th century, new equipment and technology were developed to make deep drilling of wells possible. These new equipment and technology, not only improved the quality of salt produced, but even augmented the production. By the middle of the 19th century, people undertook underground mining of salt deposits.

It may be mentioned here that the salt that is used to flavor our food is commonly known as table salt, which includes chemical additions, such as iodine and an anti-caking agent. While iodine is added to prepare table salt with a view to avert thyroid problems, the anti-caking element prevents the edible salt from forming lumps in humid conditions. A number of chefs have a preference for kosher salt, a salt free from any type of additive and is crudely grained, for cooking purposes. On the other hand, they like to use sea salt for use on the table, as the flavor of these two varieties of salts is smoother in comparison to the common table salt. In fact, kosher salt is prepared by compressing the coarse salt to produce huge, unevenly fashioned flecks to enable the salt to draw blood with ease when it is spread over meat slaughtered in the koshering procedure. As a result, the mutton softens simply and offers an essence without it being over salted owing to its large expanse.

On the other hand, Hawaiian sea salts found in either red or black color are essentially finishing salts. In other words, these salts are used at the very end of the cooking process or added to a delicacy after it has been prepared. The red form of Hawaiian sea salts possesses the flavor of iron and it is especially used to add color to any food preparation. The black variety, in contrast, possesses the scent of sulfur that it gets from the addition of filtered lava. In fact, the black Hawaiian salt, also known as 'kala namak' or 'sanchal' in many parts of India, has a tan hue more than black. This form of Hawaiian sea salt possesses a potent sulfuric essence. In India, black salt is sold in the market in a powdered form or in lumps and is used both for cooking as well as a table salt, especially for people with diabetes or hypertension.

A special type of salt called pickling salt is primarily used while making pickles. In France, a gray salt called sel gris is very common and a by-product of this variety of salt called fleur de sal is produced by allowing sel gris to blossom into crystals that appear like lacy flowers. In other words, fleur de sal is prepared by evaporating sel gris in the basins. The British equivalent of the French finishing salt fleur de sal is called Maldon sea salt. This variety of finishing salt provides a gentle and weak essence that is attained by boiling sea water to take the shape of delicate crystals having pyramid shape. In addition, it may be mentioned here that rock salt is used while making ice creams as it does not allow the ice to melt easily.

As has been discussed earlier, salt is available in nature in salt mines or in the sea water. Unlike in the past, presently most of the salt we use is mined and not obtained by evaporating the brine from seas or lakes. There are massive salt deposits  across the globe and these have been created owing to the drying up of salt lakes. In addition to adding flavor to our food, salt is also widely used as a preservative as it prevents certain microorganisms from rotting foodstuff. In fact, salt creates an unfriendly situation for several microorganisms and helps to enhance the shelf live of food products. Again, the salty liquid or brine enclosed in different food products dries out the cells of bacterium, modifies the osmotic pressure as well as slows down the development of bacteria in the food resulting in prevention of food decay.

If you are a student of philology, you will be surprised to learn that the term 'salary' was actually drawn from the Latin word 'salarium' denoting the payment of a soldier in the ancient Roman army. In fact, in those days, the salary of a Roman soldier comprised a considerable allotment of salt, which was considered to be a precious mineral as well as a means for trade. From this practice, the expressions such as 'worth your salt' and 'salt of the earth' were derived.

In the initial days of the use of salt, the mineral was primarily made use of as a flavoring agent, a dietary enhancement as well as a substance to preserve foodstuff. As the days passed, salt was used in many different ways, including in the tanning, bleaching and dyeing processes. And more recently, people have been using salt in the soap manufacturing process, to glaze pottery and even the initial process of manufacturing chlorine. Presently, the chemical industry uses salt extensively, while it is also essential for softening water.

Salt is essential for the human body for a numerous reasons. Salt is not only useful in regulating the fluid balance in the body, but it also regulates the manner in which our muscles and nerves function. On the other hand, the human body possesses the especial facility to control the amount of salt or sodium required by it and the amount of these should be present in the body at any given time. When our bodies contain excessive of salts, it gives rise to thirst and we drink a lot of fluids, thereby facilitating the process of getting rid of the surplus salt from the body by way of the kidneys.

Various researches have shown that consuming excessive salt is related to several health disorders, especially high blood pressure (hypertension) and osteoporosis. Hence, if you are suffering from high blood pressure, you would feel much better and keep fit by consuming less amounts of salt. It is important to note that kids, old people as well as those who are enduring any kidney disease are unable to eliminate sodium from their bodies and thereby fail to control the body fluid competently. It is essential for such people to minimize their salt consumption.

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