Salt: A World History

Rock of ages

The usual explanation is that salt was expensive and it was stretched by these condiments. A recurring idea throughout the ancient world from the Mediterranean to Southeast Asia, fish fermented in salt was one of the most popular salt condiments in ancient China. It was called jiang. But in China soybeans were added to ferment with the fish, and in time the fish was dropped altogether from the recipe and jiang became jiangyou, or, as it is called in the West, soy sauce. Soy is a legume that produces beans, two or three in a two-inch-long furry pod.

The beans can be yellow, green, brown, purple, black, or spotted, and Chinese cooking makes a great distinction among these varieties. Jiangyou is made from yellow beans, but other types are also fermented with salt to produce different pastes and condiments. In China, the earliest written mention of soy is in the sixth century B. Soy was brought to Japan from China in the sixth century A.

"Salt" by Mark Kurlansky

Both the religion and the bean were successfully implanted. But the Japanese did not make soy sauce until the tenth century. Once they did learn, they called it shoyu and industrialized it and sold it around the world. Though jiangyou and shoyu are pronounced very differently and appear to be very different words in Western writing, the two words are written with the same character in Japanese and Chinese.

Mao''s s literacy campaign simplified the language to some 40, characters, but a pre-Mao character for the soy plant, su, depicts little roots at the bottom which revive the soil. Soy puts nutrients back into the soil and can restore fields that have been exhausted by other crops.

A World History

The bean is so nutritious that a person could be sustained for a considerable period on nothing but water, soy, and salt. The process by which the Chinese, and later the Japanese, fermented beans in earthen pots is today known as lactic acid fermentation, or, in more common jargon, pickling. Optimum lactic fermentation takes place between sixty-four and seventy-one degrees Fahrenheit, which in most of the world is an easily achieved environment. As vegetables begin to rot, the sugars break down and produce lactic acid, which serves as a preservative.

Theoretically, pickling can be accomplished without salt, but the carbohydrates and proteins in the vegetables tend to putrefy too quickly to be saved by the emerging lactic acid.

Without salt, yeast forms, and the fermentation process leads to alcohol rather than pickles. Excluding oxygen, either by sealing the jar or, more usually, by weighting the vegetables so that they remain immersed in liquid, is necessary for successful lactic fermentation. The ancient Chinese pickled in earthen jars, which caused a white film called kahm yeast, harmless but unpleasant tasting, to form on the top.

Every two weeks the cloth, board, and stone weighting the vegetables had to be washed or even boiled to remove the film. This added work is why pickling in earthen jars has not remained popular.

Salt: A World History

In Sichuan, pickled vegetables are still a staple. They are served with rice, which is never salted. The salty vegetables contrast pleasantly with the blandness of the warm but unseasoned rice gruel that is a common breakfast food. In effect, the pickles are salting the rice. Riverhead Books Hardback, Paperback, An anthology with introduction and annotations of the unpublished manuscripts from the last WPA writers project, an exploration of food and eating in America in This broad assortment of raw, unpublished, manuscripts, including works by Nelson Algren, Eudora Welty and Zora Neale Hurston reveal a very different America with a different cuisine and a different society.

Illustrated with linocuts by the author. Paperback, Riverhead Books A portrait of Gloucester Massachusetts a rare surviving fishing port among coastal towns increasingly turning to tourism, this is an exploration of the rich culture of commercial fishing, the rare society it builds, and the struggle to continue in the 21st century. Twenty-five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea. Forward by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Hardback, Modern Library, The History of a Dangerous Idea.

Paperback, Modern Library, This sweeping but conci History on the Half Shell. It is almost forgotten that for all of its history New York was famous for its urban oyster beds until they were destroyed by pollution in the early twentieth century. This is the history of the city told through its most famous natural resource.

Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

The Year That Rocked the World. The famous year looked at from a global perspective.

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Oct 17, Elana rated it did not like it. Mostly, a foodie history with emphasis on the historical importance of salt for food preservation. Britain imposed a Draconian salt policy during its occupation of the subcontinent, enacting laws preventing native Indians not only from manufacturing salt, but also from gathering it from natural sources. Kurlansky seems to look around for the driest subjects and then to begin to research the heck out of it. Without it, health suffers; with too much of it health suffers. This was interesting becuase other books stress the role of the price of bread rather than these salt taxes.

Why did so many diverse societies from the U. A New York Times and national Best seller translated into twenty-five languages. The Chicago Tribune wrote "Splendid No one before Kurlansky has managed to evoke so rich a set of experiences in so many different places—and to keep the story humming. Paperback, Penguin Books, Just as the subtitle says a collection of food writing that includes work by Brillat-Savarin, Escoffier, Ludwig Bemelmans, A. Liebling, Herodotus, Plutarch, W. Wars were fought over it, other wars were financed with it, colonies were settled to get it.

It secured empires and spurred revolutions. Then, fairly suddenly, it lost its value. A cautionary tale of world history. A history of the oldest and least understood European culture, their history, food, culture, and their ancient language that is not related to any other known language. Illustrated by the author. In Cheshire, the once major salt-works of Nantwich and Northwich are separated by a third salt-producing village, imaginatively named Middlewich. In the late s, massive sinkholes began to appear across the region, some swallowing up dwellings, boiler-houses and smokestacks.

Religious zealots saw the hand of God in the apocalyptic subsidence and held sermons on the edges of the craters to warn sinners that hell would soon be upon them. In reality, Cheshire salt-workers were simply extracting brine so fast from the aquifers beneath their feet that they compromised the structural integrity of their landscape. Fresh water flooded in to take the place of the extracted brine and dissolved more salt from the surrounding strata.

Eventually the remaining honeycomb of rock failed and the salt-works, along with much of the surrounding countryside, began to descend into the earth.

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Far from being the portent of a Christian hell, the Cheshire sinkholes were simply an example of the routine environmental hells so characteristic of the industrial revolution. The influence of these highly productive Cheshire salt-works was felt as far away as India. Britain imposed a Draconian salt policy during its occupation of the subcontinent, enacting laws preventing native Indians not only from manufacturing salt, but also from gathering it from natural sources.

This seemingly senseless imposition originated in a desire to protect the salt industry by forcing Indians to buy the stuff imported from Cheshire. It was this policy that inspired Gandhi's march to a coastal salt pan to fill his pockets with white crystals in symbolic defiance of the British occupation. Salt is full of such fascinating facts and connections.

Before the days of refrigeration, for example, salting was the main method of preserving perishable food, but the location of the food and the salt required to preserve it didn't always correspond. Cod and herring, two of the staple foods of Europe for much of its history, frequent cold northern seas.

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Northern climes are generally ill suited to large-scale production of salt by evaporation of brine - the sun rarely shines and rain regularly dilutes - so trading with countries with the climatic wherewithal to produce the stuff cheaply became an occupation from which enormous fortunes could be, and were, made. Moreover, profound political influence fell to the nations that, through geographical good fortune or colonial military muscle, succeeded in exerting control over the trade in this most desirable of commodities.