We all know that person who, before even tasting their food, automatically reaches for the salt shaker. Whether by taste or necessity, salt is a mineral that has been with humans for centuries, influencing history in surprising ways.
Different salt types are defined by their extraction
As a substance composed mainly of sodium and chlorine (hence its chemical name sodium chloride, NaCl), salt is naturally present in different environments and named for its method of extraction. Sea salt, for example, is obtained by evaporating seawater; pink Himalayan salt, on the other hand, comes from a pulverized rock found in the mountains of Pakistan; and vegetable salt is obtained by boiling certain plants, specifically grasses.
Salt has had different functions through history
Although its most common use is as a condiment for food, historically it has had other functions. Ancient civilizations, such as the Romans*, Egyptians, and even Mesoamerican cultures, used salt to pay soldiers and public officials, as a currency for trade, or as a gift for offering tributes. This prized mineral has also played a key role in geopolitics; its high demand could be leveraged and exploited among salt producers and populations seeking to obtain it.
Salt has helped preserve certain foods and enhance flavors
Today, salt carries the stigma of negative health effects due to our often excessive consumption. However, over centuries this valuable product has benefited us in the practice of cooking by improving preservation techniques and enhancing flavors.
That said, one last word of advice, taste the food before adding salt!
*Fun fact: the word salary comes from the Latin salarium, which itself comes from the word for salt.