Sunday, 3 October 2010

Yet More Pinches of Salt

Following on from my last post another series of the unsual which makes salt a story well worth a read.

Archaeologists have shown salt to have been extracted at Droitwich since at least 200BC. However there are signs of human habitation in the area from 8000BC. This was around the time when our islands were comparatively recently separated from Continental Europe and before the nation had settled to an agrarian lifestyle. It is tempting to suggest that they were using the brine which bubbled to the surface, for they would certainly have needed extra salt in their diet. However their method of extraction left no record to prove this.

Even with the technological advances of the 21st century, salt could still have a major influence on our future and possibly even more so than in the past. The Gulf Stream brings the warmer climate of the equatorial regions along the east coast of North America and to the eastern coastline of Europe as far north as Norway. Hitting the cold waters of the Arctic one would expect warmer water to rise above it, but the increased salinity of the warmer water makes it denser and it sinks. Eventually, through a complex system the waters of the Gulf Stream return to the equatorial regions and begin the cycle once more.
Global warming melts the polar ice, introducing more fresh water into the system leading to the deflection or even cessation of the Gulf Stream. Thus the system of heat exchange around the planet is radically altered and, odd as it sounds, global warming could produce a much colder Britain as much as a warmer one.
And all because of salt.

Salt has become every much a part of culture. Not only for the traditional British fish and chips but all over the world and in the most unusual ways. In the east an honoured guest would have been welcomed by the blood of an animal sacrificed outside the entrance. In the event of a surprise visit salt would have been scattered at the entrance, thus showing that salt was considered almost the equal of blood.
Greek philosopher Aristotle, writing in the 4th century BC, encourages the eating of a measure of salt as an offer of and sealing of a friendship. Thereafter to renege on that friendship would have been tantamount to treason. Russian traditionalists have no opportunity to carry their bride over the threshold, for they will already have a lighted candle in one hand and a measure of salt in the other. Perhaps this was the same measure of salt which had been handed to the bride and groom as a traditional wedding gift. In Denmark visitors to those on their death bed will throw salt on the open fire in order to ward off the devil.

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