Return to Book Page. Preview — Salt by Mark Kurlansky. A World History by Mark Kurlansky. A World History 3. From the Bestselling Author of Cod and The Basque History of the World In his fifth work of nonfiction, Mark Kurlansky turns his attention to a common household item with a long and intriguing history: The only rock we eat, salt has shaped civilization from the very beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of humankind.
A substanc From the Bestselling Author of Cod and The Basque History of the World In his fifth work of nonfiction, Mark Kurlansky turns his attention to a common household item with a long and intriguing history: A substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, secured empires, and inspired revolutions.
Populated by colorful characters and filled with an unending series of fascinating details, Salt by Mark Kurlansky is a supremely entertaining, multi-layered masterpiece. His newest book is Birdseye. Paperback , pages. Published January 28th by Penguin Books first published January 1st To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Salt , please sign up.
Does this book mention that salt is poisonous, unfit for human consumption? Michael Ever heard the phrase "the dose makes the poison"? Everything is toxic if you reach the right dose, salt included. Salt is a critical nutrient to most …more Ever heard the phrase "the dose makes the poison"? Luckily this is a rare risk in modern diets. Lists with This Book. You merely present your publisher with stunningly unappealing material. If they choose not to publish, then you are free to go elsewhere.
A history of salt should work. Mostly, a foodie history with emphasis on the historical importance of salt for food preservation. There is some discussion of industrial uses like embalming in Egypt and other parts of Africa. The sections about cod and Basque fishing were familiar from reading Cod: The Story of a Nation.
The Vitamin C in sauerkraut made it possible for early sailors to avoid scurvy. Appert canning jar More sophisticated canning of fish and vegetables followed. Cold preservation and Clarence Birdseye, founder of the frozen food industry were not far behind. In Birdseye found a buyer for his company and fast freezing method, it became General Foods.
But, until these relatively recent events, salt was a vital part of the economy. There were salt laws, salt taxes, and salt merchants. I learned a lot about the magical properties of salt, well the beliefs and customs in its magic. Salt protects against the evil eye according to both Jews and Muslims. Remember rubbing the newborn infants with salt from the Book of Ezekial Sprinkle salt on the stage in traditional Japanese theater to protect against evil.
Anglo-Saxon farmers used salt on the plow when invoking the earth goddess for a good harvest. Romans called a man in love salax , in a salted state, the origin of the word salacious. In the Pyrenees, bridal couples went to church with salt in their left pockets to guard against impotence. In some parts of France, only the groom carried salt, in others only the bride.
An Paris engraving titled Women Salting Their Husbands demonstrated how to make your man more virile. A crowd gathers to watch a side gusher on Spindletop hill in Beaumont, Texas which was the site of the first Texas oil gusher, 10 January View all 12 comments.
May 17, Petra X rated it did not like it Shelves: I read several chapters of this. It was mind-numbingly boring. Lists, lists, lists of everything that has ever been done with salt. What different countries, cultures and times have done with salt. The word salt in many different languages. That old thing about salary being the precious salt that the Romans paid their military in, right. I was praying for a relief from the tedium of this book. But all I got was the odd not-at-all interesting anecdote.
Like you do cereal boxes or the ketchup bottle. That said, the book Twinkie, Deconstructed: But he did, at least for me. View all 4 comments. Apr 20, Matt rated it it was amazing Shelves: Let them eat salt! Literally, let everyone do so, as we all need a moderate dose of it. Kurlansky uses his attention to detail and ability to entertain the curious reader in this book that explores much of how salt came to be found on most tables around the world, as well as some of the key customs and traditions that have lasted for centuries, if not millennia.
By viewing salt through these three lenses, the reader can better understand and respect how powerful and integral those small grains or large rocks have been to shaping the world in which we live.
Interested and open-minded readers will enjoy this highly educational biography on what might seem a random and somewhat bland topic pun intended. It is worth mentioning that, while Kurlansky does make mention of many forms of salt through the narrative, the significant portion of the book relates to sodium chloride NaCl , common table salt.
This product is surely both a quintessential part of human function, but also found in most foods, either in core ingredients or added in preparation. Kurlansky discusses how the Chinese were some of the first to document their use of salt to create new staples in the country, namely soy sauce, which involves a fermentation process that salt helps spark. Salt has the sensational ability to pull moisture from items and create a brine that cures them in new and exciting ways, thinking of such things as picked cucumbers, meats, or even eggs.
Salt as a preserving agent proved to be central to the success of permitting foods to be kept for longer periods, be it meats hunted to last throughout the winter or fish caught on the far side of the world to endure the journey back.
Kurlansky briefly explores the importance that salt and cod played as teammates to bring the fish from the seaside communities to the islands and across the Atlantic which is extrapolated in his book about the history of cod, another good read , thereby feeding the masses who could not fish themselves.
Sauerkraut, long deemed by me, at least to be a Germanic invention has some of its earliest documented findings in China, where packing cabbage in brine within barrels that previously held fermented items led to this delicacy that the likes of Marie Antoinette could not get enough of, up to the day of her death. I also came to learn that corned beef has nothing to do with corn, but embedded salt a corned substance being one that has bits of another item embedded within it that seeps in and creates an interesting flavour.
That humans need salt is not in question, though Kurlansky does admit that salt intake is much higher now than in times of old and that sodium levels far exceed the recommended amount. While there is no doubt that salt helped feed the masses, it had to come from somewhere to make it onto tables or into the foods that were consumed. Salt was surely a lucrative and profit-rich business, according to Kurlansky, and anyone could do it on a small scale.
However, large salt deposits could be handled in various ways by different companies. The first and most profitable type of business was brine ponds, used primarily for medicinal purposes. Those seeking to cure what ails them could turn to a soak in one of these ponds, usual naturally warm, and find much success. Those areas of the world able to procure the development of these ponds and keep them from drying out would see significant profits.
There were other areas that used larger bodies of salt water to procure the salt needed for preserving food or making its way to the table. By creating man-made smaller basins and using the sun as a means of evaporating the water, large salt deposits remained, which could then be sold on the market. New England and parts of the Nordic countries were able to profit significantly through this method, which was sometimes paired with their cod stocks to create salted cod to sell on the world market, providing financial stability for the region.
As Kurlansky discusses throughout the book, various groups were able to perfect the salt extraction method long before large machines or complex piping entered the scene.
He does stress in the latter portion of the book that the lost art of salt retrieval, once passed from generation to generation, is all but lost in an era where massive factories can produce and sell salt at a discounted rate. The selling or trading of salt on the open market promised to be just as lucrative. Supply and demand would surely enter the discussion here, as would regions able to boost their economic situations by exporting salt to those in need.
Kurlansky does have an interesting take on this, which I will discuss below, but there is no doubt that profits played a huge part in the salt business. Of note, salt was a significant factor in influencing Joseph Smith and Brigham Young in where they might choose to settle, away from the eyes of the majority of the American population in the midth century. Looking for fertile and self-sustaining land, Young found a spot close to Food and business and even religious settlements help pave the way to a discussion of the politics of salt.
As with most things in life, if there is a crack left open or space between crystals, in this case , politics will seep in. The politics of salt are far-reaching and have significant impact since documented history began. Kurlansky discusses the Chinese in the millennia before the Common Era not only capitalising on salt in the region, but regulating its use and distribution across the empire.
Perhaps a sign of things to come, rulers and governments sought to control who could have what, when, and how much, though there was no sense of equality. Far be it from me to inject economic terms here, but regulation most certainly led to a dilution of the free-market economies of these areas, where the capable could profit based on their vested time and interest. Mahatma Gandhi fought the British ban on local procuring and selling of salt, feeling that the people had a right to work for themselves without being suppressed.
It worked, though not until after much struggle and bloodshed. Kurlansky makes an interesting observation throughout the book, that one could always predict that war was on the horizon when militaries began procuring large amounts of salt. Campaigns of any length would require forethought and planning, as it was not always possible to predict the plentifulness of energy-rich foods.
Salting products for long-term use was the key way of doing so, which took not only ingenuity, but also access to salt. In one example, Kurlansky uses the US Civil War, where some were sure Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Army was surely doomed, having no known salt reserves from which to pull.
Salt as a political weapon, albeit one that cannot make you bleed but definitely could cause one to squirm if it got into the wound, no?!
The political side of salt also served to create a significant have and have not duality, such that portions of the population or states facing one another were able to elevate prices and quantities to suit their own needs. As with many products, there is no way to completely balance distribution, though one can presume that it is greed that led to as much disparity on the world market, even with something as basic as salt.
Put labour into the mix and politics cannot stay away, begging to regulate or comment on working conditions, hours, and rates of pay. Kurlansky stirs the pot throughout by sprinkling commentaries on these and many other political topics throughout the book, sure to keep the reader thinking. This is my third food-related biography by Kurlansky and I have not read one that has not completely floored me.
The subject matter might seem bland or even off-putting, but take the time to explore what Kurlansky has to say and few will drift off from boredom. The detail Kurlansky takes in his writing seeks to educate and entertain in equal measure, while not drowning the reader in minutiae. Adding historical references and some anecdotes, the reader is taken on this journey and the points being made are further solidified as being fundamental. Kurlansky also shows an interesting habit that becomes apparent to those who have read many of his biographical pieces, pulling on pieces of research at just enough depth to make his point, but expounding on them in another tome.
One can see this with his pieces on salt, cod, and milk, three that I have recently had the pleasure to devour. This interchange of ideas only furthers the hypothesis that everything is interconnected on some level, part of the larger lifeblood of the world in which we live.
As with his other pieces, Kurlansky also brings the point home with related recipes embedded in the larger narrative. This personalises the subject matter and, for most, permits the reader to become actively involved in the topic at hand. Take a whirl and spice up your life! Kurlansky, for never ceasing to amaze me.
I know so much more now than I ever thought I could have about common table salt. What may seem so simplistic is shown to be so very exciting, with your lighthearted writing. I look forward to reading more of your work in short order. An ever-growing collection of others appears at: Vasco da Gama was from Portugal and was the first European to Who moved west in the latter half of the nineteenth-century and why?
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The United Kingdom is the official name of the government that controls England, Scotland, Wales, and Salt was important to the early Gauls and Celts who lived in Europe before the Roman conquests and these people found and worked elaborate salt mines.
In Catholic Europe, the church had placed certain dietary restriction forbidding meat on Fridays and church holidays. This created an enormous market for fish. Before refrigeration, the only way to package and transport fish was through salting. Cod, the perfect fish for salting, was discovered around this time and became an enormous culinary hit in Europe.
The cod trade powered the English and northern European economies and it was the search for cod that eventually led explorers to North America. In America, the cod industry put strains on the relationship of the colonists to Britain, leading to the American Revolution. The revolution itself was endangered by the shortages of salt in the colonies.
In France, the hated "gabelle" tax on salt put pressures on the people and symbolized the injustice of the French government, eventually leading to the French Revolution. In India, in the early 20th century, a reformer named Gandhi led his followers on a long march across the country to protest the oppressive British salt restrictions.
This march was the spark that led to Indian independence. In the 18th and 19th centuries as chemical and technical expertise increased, scientist eventually discovered how to synthesize salt and to improve the technique of making salt.
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