51 pages 1 hour read

Mark Kurlansky

Salt: A World History

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2002

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Symbols & Motifs


Kurlansky periodically inserts recipes from the time periods and locations he discusses in the books. The recipes reflect the public’s culinary tastes from the era in question, along with the ingredients used, the methods by which food was prepared, preserved, and served, and more. The recipes and dishes vary wildly, but a trait common to all of them is salt, and the presence of salted ingredients. 

Etymology, Word Origins, and Idioms

The origin of the modern words “salad,” “soldier,” and “salary,” among others, are derived sal, the Latin word for salt. Idioms such as “red herring” and “worth his salt” also come, respectively, from the practice of fur trappers using salted herring to create a false trail for hungry, pursuing wolves, and Roman soldiers requesting to be paid in salt, rather than in money. 

Salt Taxes

There are several incidences of governments levying unjust salt taxes against the public. The salt taxes become a symbol of government oppression, greed, corruption, and totalitarian control. In some cases, such as ancient China, the difficulties are handled with discussion and little violence. In others, like the French Revolution and the riots that spread across India, prior to the country’s independence from the British, violence was a direct response.

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By Mark Kurlansky