Friday, September 3, 2010

Thirty-nine: Salt A World History - Mark Kurlansky

September Book Club Selection

I didn't realize it until a few weeks ago, but I had another book by the same author already on my 'to read' list.  I honestly didn't know what to expect with this book.  I've read other historical food (is this a genre?) books and found that 75% of the information was useful with the other 25% not as much.

Kurlansky starts our journey in ancient China and works his way West with each chapter until he hits the Americas.  He captures salt consumption through the Civil War days and then makes his way back East towards Asia again.  Different techniques for mining salt are explored throughout the chapters as well as the need for taxation on this commodity by many different countries.  Wars and independence movements were started with tracings back to salt. 

The word salt is a chemical term for a substance produced by the reaction of an acid with a base.  Salt was found useful in preserving food and protecting against decay as well as sustain life.  Growth in animal raising for consumption caused a demand for some form of salt to help preserve this meat. 

Salt helped many nations prosper in the shipping and transportation business as well.  Taxation on salt was common because salt was one commodity that was used by people of every income; therefore providing equal opportunity for taxation.

Salt helped shape many cuisines and cultures around the world as well.  Soy sauce and ketchup are two of the many sauces that have salt origins.

My favorite chapter was about the origins of the Morton Salt Company which is iconically famous in many households in the United States. The United States is the largest salt producer and salt consumer.  Only 8% of salt production is for food though.  The largest single use (51%) is for deicing roads.

I'm not a fan of Kurlansky's style of writing and often found myself skipping over multiple pages in order to move through the chapters.  I felt that he often times setup the history or background in relation to the salt usage almost in a tangential way. Halfway through the book I was hoping that the next chapter was not going to be about how another country or region used salt to preserve fish or another type of meat.

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