Salt, the ancient food preserver.

06 Sep

Salt: the kitchen helper

A chicken and salad sandwich is never the same without salt and it is a must with hot chips. Good old sodium chloride (NaCl) salt is useful as more than just a  seasoning. So salt has been an important part of life  since Neolithic caveman (according to the Salt Institute)  because it has many uses and is important for us to  live. Until industrialisation came along and made the  process easier salt was a very expensive commodity.  Obtaining salt involved mining or evaporating sea water  and capturing the salt. It is still mined today but the  process is automated.

So why does the human body need salt? Most people have heard of electrolytes, yes? Well if you haven’t electrolytes are minerals that conduct electricity in our fluids and tissues. Basically they make sure that our nerves fire and our muscles move (including the important ones like our heart). They also make sure that our cells don’t burst from too much water or shrink from not enough (in “science terms” they help to maintain the osmotic balance in our body). So basically our body really needs electrolytes, the main ones are sodium, chlorine, potassium, magnesium and calcium.We lose salt by sweating and urinating which we need to replace from our food (well unless you want to just eat or drink salt, I don’t recommend it because it doesn’t taste great).  Sea salt and rock salt (unrefined salt) contains not only sodium and chlorine but also trace minerals, like magnesium, so is an important source of minerals. Once again we are back to salt as a seasoning. But it can also be useful in combating disease and infection.

“Rubbing salt in the wound” is an old saying that I am sure most of us have heard (if you haven’t you’ll just have to believe me it’s common). Ever gone into the ocean with cuts, stings a lot doesn’t it? Well imagine if you have a knife or arrow wound and someone rubs salt into it, it would burn. But salt is one of the oldest know medical treatments, it is mentioned in texts from ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece and Chinese (and many others). If you still don’t think that proves that it is very good, I can understand. But the 0.9% saline in your first aid kit that you use to wash out wounds (any sometimes eyes) yes that’s right saline=salt (dissolved in water). I think the most compelling argument for salt as a disinfectant is our immune system uses salt as a first line of protection against bacteria (our tears, sweat and blood all contain salt). But why is it a good disinfectant? Salt controls osmotic balance in living things. Salt on a wound draws water out of the area (by osmosis) and drying the area out (microbes require water to survive), no water= no life. No microbes on the infected area means no infections.  This ability of salt to dehydrate also reduces swelling (which is mostly fluid) and therefore pain. This is the same thing that happens when you put salt on a slug or leech (although I’m pretty sure they are in a lot of pain). Salt is not the best disinfectant in modern times but it is still useful as a first treatment (especially if you have nothing else). Salt’s antimicrobial properties, once discovered changed humankind forever, which brings us to the next very good use for salt.

Salt preserves food! Once this was discovered it wasn’t as important that you eat the whole lion (or tiger, or bear or if you weren’t that good squirrel) you just killed straight away you could… wait… save it for later. Ok you can’t save it for as long as the fridge but come on this was before electricity and a massive breakthrough at the time. Salt is a good preserver for the same reason it is a good disinfectant. It doesn’t allow microbes to grow were it is because it has a high osmotic pressure, which denies microbes of the water necessary for survival.

Salt is not just a tasty seasoning, it is an ancient and incredibly important part of our lives. Although most people take it for granted. So next time you’re adding it to chips remember take a moment to appreciate it. If you have a sore throat add a desert spoon of salt to a cup of warm water and gargle and be amazed by the difference.

This blog might be a little try but in all fairness we are talking about salt.

If you still don’t think you know enough about salt check out the Salt Institute website: or for more increndible uses check out


Posted by on 06/09/2011 in Uncategorized


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5 responses to “Salt, the ancient food preserver.

  1. emmalawrance

    07/09/2011 at 16:46

    I’ve recently realised the importance of salt in a rather dramatic way. I never thought I’d need to take NaCl tablets, but there you go! Looking forward to learning more tips Em- the people who’ve experienced my cooking will tell you I need all the help I can get! 🙂

  2. Arwen from Chameleon's Tongue

    11/09/2011 at 14:23

    Interesting to hear about salt in early medicine.

  3. thatsciencehombre

    12/09/2011 at 16:21

    frothing on the blog and salt i love salt

  4. collegekitchenscientist

    27/09/2011 at 16:08

    Yes salt is very important to our bodies… not all salt is bad for us. It is just as bad to have not enough as it is to have too much.

  5. Tomoko

    29/09/2011 at 18:57

    I am from Japan and the origin of sushi could be the preserving fish with salt and vinegar, called as “Oshizushi” which came from the south east asia around mountainsides in Vietnam and Thailand. Then after arriving at Japan, it changed and develop to the current sushi with the fresh fish and the vinegar-marinaded-rice.

    We have the vegetable pickles “Tsukemono” is also necessary food as well.


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