Post # 19 The Rock You Eat

July 13, 2012 at 11:59 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

It’s salt, of course.  Salt is so common in the dining arena today that very few people give it more than a passing glance or thought.  However, salt is fascinating stuff.  First, it’s a rock, but we eat it.  It’s the only rock that we eat, well, on purpose.  It’s essential for human life, but it’s a combination of two elements that by themselves are deadly.  And not only does it have a unique flavor all its own, but it enhances other flavors, making them more flavorful.

Salt is essential for life.  It helps to regulate the balance of fluids in the body.  It also assists the electrical impulses in the nervous system.  Too much or too little and the balances are thrown out of whack and life can be extinguished pretty quickly.   But salt can also help in other areas.  If you have a sore throat you can bathe it in a salty solution and the sore throat will go away.  I, personally, eat sunflower seeds for about a half hour or until the soreness is gone.  If your feet are aching, soak them for awhile in a bath of cool or room temperature water with salt.  If your entire body is aching, or you just need to relax, fill your bath tub with warm water, salt, and your favorite scent and soak.

Salt pulls moisture out of things.  It’s this quality that first brought salt into a world view.  Before canning or artifical refrigeration, people preserved food through a salting process.  For our ancestors, food preservation was always problematic.  The best way to keep food fresh was to not kill it.  So in winter, animals were brought indoors, into barns or, in some early cases, into the main house.  Even then, once an animal was slaughtered, there was always the question of what to do with the leftovers.  In winter, it was easy.  You just put it outside if you happened to live in a cold enough environment.  But if it was summer, or just not cold enough where you lived, other methods had to be found.  Salt took care of the problem.  Not only did it preserve the foods, but it also stopped bacteria, mold, and fungus from growing.  Even today, there is still a big demand for salt pork, salt cod, and the like.  My brother’s first wife got addicted to saladitos during her first pregnancy.  It was a salt-dried plum that looked white on the outside due to all the salt.  Even beef jerkey can be kept longer if it’s salted.

People have been harvesting salt since people first appeared on the planet.  The earliest remains of a human harvesting salt dates back to 6050 bce.  The original trade routes followed animal trails which led to salt deposits or salt sources.  The earliest major cities and cultures were all founded in areas where salt could be harvested or manufactured easily.  Over 82% of the salt manufactured today is for industrial use in dye setting, paper manufacturing, and cleansers to name a few, making it the oldest existing chemical industry.

And it tastes good, too.  Salt as a seasoning is beyond compare.  It’s identified by its taste.  It tastes salty.  But it enhances the flavors of food too.  Add salt to a steak and it tastes like a wonderful steak.  Leave the salt off, and it tastes like a steak.  Add salt to the water you boil pasta in and the pasta picks up the taste of the salt.  Leave it out, and you have pasta that tastes bland.  Bacon is loved by nearly everyone in the world.   Leave the salt out of it, and you will hear grumblings of “That doesn’t taste like good bacon.”   Someone once handed me a chocolate dipped potato chip.  I thought, “Oh, this can’t be good.” but The Rule took over and I popped it into my mouth.  I now like a little salt in everything chocolate.  It makes the chocolate taste amazing!

It’s very easy to over salt things, so be careful.  When cooking with salt, be judicious and taste as you go.  Or better yet, leave the salt out and allow everyone to salt to their own taste.  Every culture has found ways to use salt in cooking to stretch the flavor.  The best example is soy sauce from the asian culture.  It’s a fermented salty liquid used to flavor dishes as they’re cooking.  Since it’s a liquid, it allows a little salt to go a long way.

There’s a lot more to be said for salt that I can’t go into here.  Salt has influenced the course of human history in countless ways.  It’s a common rock, with an uncommon history.

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