To have or not to have a ‘Salty’ knowledge
Jack T. Chakhesang
MOST of us now know that the salt we consume is usually collected from the ocean. For instance, on the beaches of Gujarat that adjoins the Arabian Sea, are laid out vast tracts of salt pans (ponds for evaporating sea water) to collect their residue of salt as the ocean waves surf over them and then recede.This “raw material” is, however, still mixed up with slime, insects, bacteria, and other impurities harmful to humans. So, this is collected (by hand) and transported to the salt factory where it undergoes a process of purification several times (at least thrice) to get its snow-white colour and then packed into polythene packets of various weights. One important ingredient that is added to this factory salt is a very minute quantity of iodine in the ratio of 1:3 million parts.
Iodized salt helps to prevent goiter, an ailment that was much more common in the Naga Hills during the 19th century. Even without the salt from the oceans, our head-hunting ancestors were not unaware of the properties of salt. Writing in a “Sketch of Assam, 1847” John Butler said, “In different parts of the Naga territory, many salt wells exists, and being worked by some of the tribes an immense quantity of salt is produced. They use it for barter in the plains of Assam.”
In some parts of the Western hemisphere and in India, Europeans introduced the use of salt, but in parts of central Africa it is till a luxury available only to the rich. Where people live mainly on milk and raw or roasted meat (so that the natural salts are not lost), sodium chloride supplements are unnecessary; nomads with their flocks of sheep or herds of cattle, for example, never eat salt with their food.
On the other hand, people who live mostly on cereal, vegetables, or boiled meat require supplements of salt. The habitual use of salt is intimately connected with the advance from nomadic to agricultural life, a step in civilization that profoundly influenced the rituals and cults of almost all ancient nations.
The gods were worshipped as the givers of the kindly fruits of the earth, and salt were usually included in sacrificial offerings consisting of wholly or partly of cereal elements. Such offerings were prevalent among the Greeks and Romans and a number of the Semitic peoples. Covenants were ordinarily made over a sacrificial meal, in which salt was a necessary element.
The preservative qualities of salt made it a peculiarly fitting symbol of an enduring compact, sealing it with an obligation to fidelity. The word salt thus acquired connotations of high esteem in ancient and modern languages.
Examples include the Arab avowel “there is salt between us” and the Hebrew expression “to eat the salt of the palace” and the modern Persian phrase “namak haram”, “untrue to salt” that is disloyal or ungrateful and also used in Hindi now. In fact, there is a Hindi movie of the same title. In English the term “salt of the earth” is of the highest esteem.
Salt contributes to our knowledge of the ancient highways of commerce. One of the oldest roads in Italy is the “Via Salaria” (the salt route) from which Roman salt from Ostia was carried to other parts of Italy. Herodotus tells us of a caravan route that united the salt oases of the Libyan Desert. The ancient trade between the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea coast of southern Russia was largely depended on the salt pans of the mouth of the Dneiper River and on the salt fish brought from this district.
Cakes of salt have been used as money in Ethiopia and in elsewhere in Africa and in Tibet. In the Roman Army an allowance of salt was made for officers and men; in imperial times, this solarium (from which the English word salary is derived) was converted into an allowance of money for salt.
Sea water on the average contains about 3 per cent salt, although the actual concentration varies from 1 per cent (in the polar seas) to 5 per cent. Enclosed waters such as the Mediterranean and Red Seas contain a higher proportion of salt than does the open oceans at the same latitude. Irrespective of the source of seawater, salt obtained by the evaporation of seawater has the following composition—sodium chloride 77.78 per cent, magnesium chloride 10.86 per cent, magnesium sulphate 4.74 per cent, calcium sulphate 3.60 per cent, potassium chloride 2.46 per cent, magnesium bromide 0.22 per cent and calcium carbonate 0.34 per cent.
The Dead Sea which covers an area of 394 square miles (1,020 square kms) contains approximately 12, 650 million tonnes of salt. The Jordan River which contains only 35 parts of salt per 100,000 parts of water, adds 850,000 tonnes of salt to this total each year. That is why it is said that virtually anything floats on the Dead Sea!
Rock salt is crystalline sodium chloride, called halite by mineralogists. It occurs mostly in the form of rock masses and beds and is abundant in rocks from all geological periods. Because of its great solubility in water, it occurs under thick cover in humid regions. Such bedded salt deposits occur in the Punjab Salt Range in Pakistan and in Iran; however, these deposits have been little exploited. Similar deposits in the United States and Canada are worked extensively for both industrial and domestic use.
Other important salt deposits, usually classified by the surrounding rocks, are found in Germany, Nova Scotia, the sub-Carpathian region extending from Poland through Hungary and Romania, the United States, and the Province of Szechwan in china, where salt wells have been in existence for more than 2,000 years.
Another economically important type of rock salt deposit is the rock salt domes, which were formed when earth pressures forced up plugs of rock salt measuring approximately a mile across. The domes appear to result from pressure which pushes up the salt through the rocks from depths as great as 50,000 feet (15,000 metres or 15 kms). Many domes occur at shallow depths and are extensively mined.
Domes in the sub-Carpathians of Europe have been worked since ancient times. The North German Plain has many extensively mined domes, which are thought to have originated below 6,000 feet. Domes are also abundant along the US Gulf coast. Rock salt may be obtained from domes by the usual mining methods or by drilling wells into the salt strata and pumping water to dissolve the salt, the brine is then returned to the surface, where it is processed like natural brine.
No wonder that Mahatma Gandhi’s “Dandi March” (or salt march) captured the headlines and the world’s attention. The Bible mentions that Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt because she disobeyed the Lord and looked back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is also a fable about a king who banished his favourite daughter because she loved him as much as salt while her sisters said sugar instead. And I have a friend in the Army whose name is Salty Daulta!
A woman and I did not get married because like most Chakhesangs she had a penchant for salty food too much salt in fact which I could not digest. Fortunately, the matter was resolved not only amicably but “saltily” as well and we parted as fine friends.
So, do have a salty day!