For good traction and taste, you can’t beat salt

For good traction and taste, you can't beat salt By Bob Karolevitz I don't usually write about arguable subjects, but the topic this week is salt � and, believe me, it's controversial.

For some, sodium is odium. Others take it � if you'll pardon the expression � "with a grain of salt."

The two principal uses that most of us are acquainted with � food and using it to melt snow and ice on the roadways � have proponents and opponents on both sides.

Doctors argue that too much salt in our diets leads to hypertension, high blood pressure, edema and kidney failure. Anti-salting foes say it rots out automobiles, kills vegetation and pollutes ground water.

Me? I'm somewhere in the middle on this.

I accept the fact that we Americans probably eat too much salt. Several teaspoons full a day is the estimate, and a lot of that is unknowingly. But I hate tasteless food!

An egg without salt is blah. So, too, are potatoes, tomatoes, pork chops, peanuts and herring.

I also like bacon. As one writer put it: "Low-sodium bacon is an oxymoron. Bacon is Old French for salted pork. Bacon needs salt to be bacon."

As for salt on the road after an ice storm, I'm mighty glad when the county truck comes along and sprinkles the stuff. It costs a little more at the car wash, but it's better than sliding into the ditch.

The Bible is full of salt. They say it's mentioned 32 times, but I've never counted. In Genesis, Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt. That's bad. But in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says of his Disciples: "Ye are the salt of the earth." That's good.

One thing is pretty certain. We're never going to run out of sodium chloride. Writers tell us that Michigan alone has enough salt underground to supply peoplekind's needs for 200 million years � and that's a long, long time. And in just 394 square miles, the Dead Sea contains almost 12 billion tons.

I was also pleased to learn that the world's largest salt mine is in the Carpathian Mountains at Wieliczka, Poland. It's been in production for a thousand years, and the end is not in sight.

Actually, table salt is only a wee percentage of what we use in the U.S. each year. Much more goes into the manufacture of soap, glass, bleaches and even cement. Salt cures hides, preserves fish, makes cucumbers into pickles and provides the brine for refrigeration.

In times past cities were founded near salt sources, and it was a vital element in ancient trade routes. It was used to buy wives or slaves, and Roman soldiers got a salt allowance as part of their salarium (from which the word salary was derived). If a soldier was good, he was "worth his salt."

In Tibet and parts of Africa cakes of salt were used for money. However, it would never work in video lottery or pop machines.

I first became aware of salt in the Army during World War II. When we returned hot and sweaty after a 20-mile hike, layers of white showed up between the straps of our field packs and our fatigues.

In the mess hall afterwards we had to down a salt tablet before we'd get anything to eat. We had to replace the salt that came out of our system, they said. Whether officialdom was right or wrong at the time, I still have memories of our salt-encrusted jackets, so I have to assume that the mandatory allotment of tablets made sense.

Salt has become part of our speech. Salting away means to save. If you want to get even with someone, you rub salt in his wounds. Old sailors are salts, and a salty sermon has zing to it.

Mostly, though, we hear about salt these days in its health connotations. Oh, I suppose the doctors are right, but in the meantime, pass the salt-shaker, please!

© 2000 Robert F. Karolevitz

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