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R Muthusamy
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Freelance writer, Compulsive blogger, Facebook addict, Travel photographer from Chennai
Freelance writer, Compulsive blogger, Facebook addict, Travel photographer from Chennai

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Most of us think that salt or common salt is "a white crystalline substance that brings the best out of food." It is an essential element in the diet of not only humans but of animals, and even of many plants. As the most essential ingredient, it can transform the character in our dish. It is one of the most effective and most widely used of all food preservatives. Salt has played an important part of the world's history and has been great historical interest i.e., part of Egyptian religious offerings and valuable trade between the Phoenicians and their Mediterranean empire. Salt has been used by many different races and cultures of people throughout the ages. In Tamil tradition salt is being represented as food and considered as icon for sensitiveness, loyalty and gratitude. The terms ‘salary’ and ‘salad’ came from the word ‘salt.’ In olden days, the Roman warriors serving the empire were paid with a handful of salt each day as salary. Hence it was known as 'salarium' (Latin) or salt-money. From 1790 salt, also known as 'sodium chloride,' in modern chemistry sense. It is an inorganic chemical compound formed from the ionic bonding of an acid with a base. Common salt is basically an electrolyte. Sodium is a vital nutrient. The daily human intake of salt is minimum: WHO has recommended the sodium intake per day as 5000 mg and by American Heart Association as 1500 mg.

Almost all major ancient civilizations viewed salt as a precious commodity. Salt was harvested thousands of years ago. Archaeologists in Bulgaria discovered the walled fortified settlement near the modern town of Provadia in north-east Bulgaria dating back to around 6050 B.C. Chinese Yellow Emperor Huangdi (a.k.a Yellow Thearch), third of ancient China's mythological emperors, may be credited with for presiding over the first war ever fought over salt. Egyptians may have been the first civilization to preserve fish and meat with salt. Egyptians also commenced exporting salt fish to the Phoenicians in exchange for expensive luxuries. The nomadic traders used camels as the key means of trade-transport between the Mediterranean and West Africa and to cross the Sahara desert. Hallstatt, a village in the Salzkammergut, on the western shore of the Hallstätter, a region in Austria, is known for its production of salt, dating back to 800–450 B.C. From Chinese written records dating back to 800 B.C. we learn about salt extraction by the people of China using clay jars. During 500 B.C. Hallstatt Celts adopted to open salt pans on the sea-shore to produce salt. The salt was mined by Romans from deposits in the ground. Roman salt pans were discovered in Algarve, Portugal.

In India salt is known since pre-Vedic times and is certainly as ancient as human civilization. Saindhava lavana (aka Sendha Namak in Ayurveda) is naturally occurring mineral form and isometric crystals of Sodium Chloride. It is best known today as the "Himalayan Pink rock salt." The word “Saindhava” means the ancient Sindhu Kingdom cited in the Indian epic "The Mahabharata." “Lavana” means “salt”. The famous Khewra Salt Mine, one of the primary sources of Saindhava Lavana, is located in the foothills at the head of the valley beside one of the tributaries of the Indus. Salt Range, the series of hills and low mountains between the valleys of the Indus and Jhelum rivers, lies between the Indus River and the Himalayan Range in the north of what is Pakistan today.

The vast, unbroken coastline of Tamilagam was located in Neithal region. Salt was highly valued and considered as a precious commodity during Sangam period. Sangam literature has extensive references about salt harvesting and salt selling. Salt producers were known as 'Alavars' and and the salt merchants were known as 'Umanars' (உமணர்). Salt merchants traveled with their families with train of bullock carts. Womenfolk barter fish and salt and get paddy, meat and wine. The post brings out extensive references from 'Ettuthokai' and 'Pathupattu.'

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Salt and Salt Merchants in Sangam Literature
Tamil cuisine recognizes six tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent and Salty is one among the six tastes. It brings the best out of food . As the most essential ingredient, it can transform the character in our dish. In Tamil tradition s...

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