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A Few Words about Salt

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

It’s almost impossible to discuss sauces without mentioning sodium chloride. Salt is so important that the very words “sauce” and “salsa” (not to mention “sausage,” “salary,” and “salubrious”) are derived, ultimately, from the Latin “sal,” for salt. It is so basic that the Cynic, Antiphanes, was quoted in The Deipnosophistae of Athenaeus: “Of the relishes which come from the sea we always have one, and that day in, day out. I mean salt.” (Book 9, p. 161)

It’s not a coincidence that Matthew 5:13-16, has Jesus saying: “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” We are nothing if we’re not “worth our salt”—and neither are our sauces.

This is not just a Western concept. The ancient Chinese had a saying: “Oh salt, he is a General in the Chinese cuisine” … This saying, used earlier but recorded by Ban Gu during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 CE), shows the importance of salt in all sauces.

Salt crystals bring cultural meanings and give people food choices in sauce manufacture. Salt supplements enhance each sauce, and Chinese food preparation reflects people's affection for sauce and salt in their lives. In China, people do not get their salt from a salt shaker. They get theirs using many different sauces as they prepare their dishes. Thus, in China, salt and sauce are great partners.(Zhou Hongcheng).

Salt is essential to life for all of us (animals travel miles just for a chance to lick soil containing even a trace of salt). However, for anyone afflicted by hypertension, too much salt can be dangerous. Fortunately, excess salt is eliminated by the kidneys of healthy people, so—for them, at least—warnings about NaCl’s dangers should be taken with a grain of you-know-what.

This excerpt from Sauces Reconsidered: Aprés Escoffier (Rowman & Littlefield Studies in Food and Gastronomy, 2019), and the illustration above—which is not part of the book—are protected by copyright, and may not be republished in any form without prior permission.


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