HISTORY OF SALT
Ghandi used it to protest against British colonial rule, the ancient Romans as currency, while the Celtic peoples had already grasped its superb preservative properties. Throughout history, salt has taken on an immense variety of roles. It has been used as a food, as a preservative, for medicinal purposes, as well as a means of bartering and payment, protest and prayer.
From the garum the ancient Romans made using fish innards and salt and the Vietnamese “Nuoc Mam” (a sauce that resembles modern-day soy sauce) to the contemporary recipes we enjoy today, salt has carved out an important role for itself both in the kitchen and beyond.
Salt has been well known since ancient times as both a disinfectant and a preservative. Evidence of this has been found in Egyptian tombs from the 3rd millennium B.C., which indicate it was used for preserving fish and game, as well as for the consumption of olives.
In China, it was common practice to preserve and consume vegetables by covering them with salt.
However, it was in the western world that more effective techniques were developed for treatments using salt: the Celts, who occupied an area where salt was found in abundance (from the south of France to Salzburg) were well acquainted with its many uses, and it was from the Celts that the Romans acquired the habit of salting the animals they hunted, including pigs and wild boar. It is no coincidence that the city of Parma grew up in an area that was once a Celtic settlement, close to Salsomaggiore, whose name derives from the wealth of saltwater pools present there.
As our culture developed, salt was so hard to come by that it took on a role of major importance above all as a trading commodity.
The Salentine peoples, for instance, extracted salt from the depressions on the cliffs and used it as a currency of exchange. This practice gave rise to a number of important trading routes, such as the world-famous Via Salaria, which linked the Adriatic and Etruria with the salt pans of Ostia.
Indeed, control over these salt pans was one of the driving forces behind Roman expansion throughout the Mediterranean; this brought the French and Spanish coasts under the control of the Empire, which extended right to the Dead Sea area.
Merchants wishing to travel along the “salt road” we today call the Via Salaria were compelled to pay a toll for the privilege to the gabelliere who calculated the amount due according to the value of the goods transported.
These taxes were an important source of income for the areas fortunate enough to have the road pass through them.
The Republic of Venice owes its origins to the rebellion against Byzantine control over the riches deriving from the salt pans of Chioggia.
Similarly, in France, the Camargue and Guérande areas grew rich and prosperous thanks to the salt pans found there. In Italy, a tax was imposed on salt in ancient times, and was not abolished until 1975.
In the 20th century, Gandhi led the peaceful protests against the oppression of the Indian people by British colonial rule by heading the famous “Salt March”: on April 6 1930, the protesters reached the Indian Ocean, and Gandhi picked up a salt crystal from the shore in a gesture of rebellion against the colonial legislation according to which both the production and sale of salt was the exclusive preserve of Her Majesty’s subjects, and which imposed a heavy tax on the commodity that was particularly onerous for the poorest Indian citizens.