Worth Your Salt?

I grew up hearing “You are not worth your salt,” but I didn’t know where it came from.

The ancient Greeks and Romans used salt in trading for slaves. If they weren’t good workers, they weren’t worth the salt that was paid for them. Salt was so important it was sometimes used to pay Roman soldiers, and the word salary is derived from the Latin word “sal” or salt. Roman soldiers received a “salarium”. Historical records show how ancient people used salt around the world and the uses were many.

Growing up, we had one kind of salt in the cupboard and it was iodized salt. Salt became iodized in the U.S. in 1924 in order to address the goiter problem (enlarged thyroid) many people were having. It worked! I have three kinds in my cupboard but the iodized is used the most. In Europe, some salts also contain fluoride because fluoridation of water is not customary. In Germany, most of the salt sold also contains folic acid which is vitamin B. If salt in America contained vitamins, just think how healthy French fries would be!

Salt has been used in religious ceremonies, as a preservative, and has medicinal uses. The Bible makes 30 references to salt, and it was used as offerings and for purification. Salt was used in baptisms and in burials as an act of purification and giving salt as an offering to God was a common Hebrew practice. Ancient Egyptians and Native American used salt as a preservative and boiling brine was practiced in many countries. Being able to preserve fish with salt saved the lives of many colonists in America. Much is written about the medicinal uses of salt and gargling with salt water to treat sore throats and cancer sores was a common practice in my house growing up. Epsom salts is recommended for aching feet and muscles, and bubble baths are sold that contain Epsom salt to enhance relaxation. Salt is available and inexpensive today and is used in many countries like the people of ancient times.

I read so much about salt I can’t even begin to share all of it, but here are a few interesting things I learned: there are 12 different types of salts for cooking, constipation can be treated by drinking Epsom salt dissolved in water and the Erie Canal was referred to as “the ditch salt built” because salt was the main product transported and the salt tax paid for half of the construction cost.

The next time you reach for a salty chip, you might look at it with a little more interest. I know I now have more respect for salt.