Salt, also known as sodium chloride, is a ubiquitous mineral that has been a valuable commodity for humans throughout history. It has been used as a seasoning, a preservative, a currency, and even a symbol of friendship.

The history of salt in human culture is long and fascinating, with its influence on society and economics, wars and trade routes, and even language and literature.

In this article, we will explore the history of salt in human culture, from its early uses to its modern-day applications.

Early History of Salt

Salt from sea water
Salt from sea water
The use of salt dates back to prehistoric times, with evidence of salt production found in ancient civilizations such as China, Egypt, and Rome. The earliest method of salt production was by evaporation, where seawater or brine was left in the sun to dry.

Salt was also obtained from salt mines or salt springs, where it could be found naturally in the form of rock salt or brine.

Salt in Ancient Times

Salt played a crucial role in the development of ancient civilizations. It was used as a seasoning and a preservative for food, which allowed people to store food for longer periods and travel farther distances. In addition to its culinary uses, salt was also used for religious ceremonies and as a trading commodity. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that salt was a sacred mineral, and it was used in religious offerings and sacrifices.

Roman solders were paid in salt, hence the word 'salary'
Roman solders were paid in salt, hence the word ‘salary’
Salt was also used in ancient times as a form of payment. In fact, the word “salary” comes from the Latin word “salarium,” which was the payment given to Roman soldiers to buy salt.

The value of salt was so high in some cultures that it was even used as a form of currency. The West African kingdom of Ghana, for example, was known to trade salt for gold, which led to the development of trade routes across the Sahara desert.

Salt in Medieval Times

During the Middle Ages, salt became even more valuable as a commodity. The demand for salt grew as European cities grew, and it became a key ingredient in the preservation of meat and fish.

The salt trade became a major industry, and salt was transported across Europe along established trade routes. In fact, the word “salad” comes from the medieval Latin word “salata,” which means “salted.” Salting vegetables was one of the main ways to preserve them during this time.

Salt as a preservative for meat and fish
Salt as a preservative for meat and fish
Salt played a significant role in politics and economics during the Middle Ages.

In some countries, salt was heavily taxed, which led to widespread smuggling and black-market trading.

In France, for example, the salt tax, known as the “gabelle,” was a major source of revenue for the government. The tax was so high that it led to widespread unrest, and the French Revolution was partly sparked by a rebellion against the salt tax.

Salt in Modern Times

In the modern era, the importance of salt as a commodity has declined somewhat, but it still plays a significant role in our lives.

Salt is still used as a seasoning and a preservative, and it is an essential ingredient in many processed foods. In addition to its culinary uses, salt is also used in industry, such as in the production of chlorine and other chemicals.

Today, salt production is a highly efficient industry. Salt is still produced by evaporation and mining, but new technologies such as desalination have made it possible to extract salt from seawater on a large scale.

Salt used in the production of soap
Salt used in the production of soap
Salt is used in the production of soap, and it is used to de-ice roads in the winter. It is also used in the production of chlorine, which is used to purify water.

However, the environmental impact of salt production, particularly the effects on freshwater systems, is a growing concern.


The history of salt in human culture is a fascinating one, with salt playing a central role in trade, religion, and politics.

From its early uses in mummification and food preservation to its modern-day applications in chemical production and public health, salt has been a vital part of human civilization for thousands of years. Whether it is used as a symbol of wealth and power or as a key ingredient in our daily diet, salt will continue to play an important role in human culture for generations to come.

We hope you found the information above useful. Leave a comment below, or contact us if you have any questions.

Share this: