Sugar and Salt Term Paper

Pages: 8 (2770 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Black Studies

¶ … cultural views on sugar and salt. It will examine the historical roots for those views and discuss how they have changed over time. Sugar and salt are two of the basic foods in most of the world's diets, and in modern times, these two very different foods cause fear and many people limit them for health reasons. Sugar and salt are building blocks of diet and nutrition, but too much of them can go a long way in ruining a healthy diet. They helped create and maintain entire cultures, but today, they are simply taken for granted as items we find easily on the grocery shelves.

Salt is one of the most basic minerals in the world, and yet it is one of the most mysterious. Today, it is trendy to keep "designer" salts in the kitchen - sea salts, French Fleur de Sel, Kosher salt - gray, pink, black, and white salts, all for different cooking purposes. However, salt has a much longer history. Today salt is trendy, but in the past, salt was life, and because of that, it played a monumental part in the history of the world. Writer Kurlansky notes, "Without both water and salt, cells could not get nourishment and would die of dehydration" (Kurlansky 5). Another historian states, "The essential function of salt is to maintain the equilibrium of the liquids or serum in the body; it must remain constant" (Toussaint-Samat 457). Salt is necessary for survival, but it has been used for centuries as a flavoring, and even as currency.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Sugar and Salt Assignment

Humankind has known about salt and its benefits for millennia. The Chinese produced and traded sea salt as long ago as 800 B.C., and recorded preserving foods with it as early as 2000 B.C. Remains of salt from 2000 B.C. Or before have been found in Pharaohs tombs in Egypt, and the Egyptians used it to embalm some of their mummies to preserve them in the afterlife. Romans, especially the upper classes, used salt as a reward for the lower classes, and sometimes paid their soldiers in salt. In fact, the word "salary" comes from the word "salt," thus; Roman soldiers were "worth their salt" (Kurlansky 62). Salt works were common across Europe and Asia, as were salt mines. Salt was so important wars were fought over it. By the ninth century, making salt had become somewhat of an art, and the procedure would not drastically advance again until the twentieth century. Before the ninth century, salt makers created a pond, and allowed the water to evaporate, leaving the salt behind. By the ninth century, a series of ponds and pumps were being used, pumping the water from pond to pond, as the salinity rose in the water. This created a continual series of brine ponds and freshwater ponds, so there was a continual supply of salt (Kurlansky 82). Many countries and cities created salt administrations, somewhat like today's treasuries or government overseers, to maintain salt records, trade, and worth. Venice had such an administration, and so did China. This indicates just how important salt was to the communities. China also used salt as money, and it was used in a wide variety of food items, from curing ham and pork to cheesemaking and curing olives. Many of these foods would become staples in trade in the Mediterranean, along with salt.

Kurlansky's history of salt shows that just about every civilization and race used salt somehow - for food, for barter, for preserving, and as an economic unit. The author also illustrates how important salt is in the innovation of so many of the foods we take for granted today, such as salted fish, cheese, olives, soy sauce, sauerkraut, pickles, butter, bacon and many other common foods. Salt helped trade grow because it allowed foods to be preserved and shipped, which could not occur with fresh foods. Thus, areas such as the North Seas, rich in fish, could ship their salted fish around the world and reap the benefits of trade and a growing economy. Salt not only provided sustenance, it could provide riches in the right hands.

By medieval times, (and even before), salt was a measure of wealth and success. In medieval halls, salt would be placed on the table in saltcellars for all to use. However, the further one was removed from the saltcellar, the lower the status in the medieval community. Thus, there were two seats at the banquet tables, "above the salt," for the higher-ranking diners, and "below the salt" for the lower ranking diners. Salt continued to play an important role in trade, settlement, and the economy throughout the centuries. Long thought to be a sugar capital of the world, the Caribbean actually shipped more salt to North America than sugar. Kurlansky notes, "In the Caribbean, the leading cargo carried to North America - more tonnage that even sugar, molasses, or rum - was salt" (Kurlansky 211). Salt was an important part of the Revolutionary War. In fact, there was a salt shortage and the Continental Congress even urged patriots to make salt and support the war effort, and in France, the salt laws and taxes were one of the reasons the French finally revolted in their own rebellion in 1789 (Kurlansky 222-233). In addition, during the Civil War, the South was at a disadvantage militarily and industrially, but they also did not have the capability to make enough salt for their soldiers and residents (Kurlansky 257). Thus, salt has caused wars, helped win wars, and continues to play an important role in combat, in peace, and in trade. In fact, some historians have likened it to oil, one of the most important minerals of our modern times. Jean-Francois Bergier, another salt historian states, "It has been the reason behind commercial and political strategy, has enriched some and impoverished others. In short, for dozens of generations salt held a position similar to that of oil in our own time" (Toussaint-Samat 458). Thus, salt could be one of the most important and enduring cultural icons that the world will ever know.

Today, salt is added to millions of ingredients, and many health studies indicate that too much salt can be bad for the heart. It can cause hypertension (high blood pressure), and most people with high blood pressure are urged to reduce their salt intake. One food historian notes, "But in fact we eat more than we need, over 15 grams a day" (Toussaint-Samat 457). Salt is added to just about every processed food, and occurs naturally in many others (such as seafood). Many food manufacturers now tout their products as "low-salt" or "no-salt" to entice people to buy them. Other studies show that salt may not be the only culprit in heart disease, but it has gotten such bad publicity, most people try to avoid it or cut back to become more "healthy." However, salt is still necessary for life, and keeping a good balance in the body is just good sense.

Almost everyone knows salt is used extensively in cooking. Bread will not rise without a pinch of salt (or sugar), and a little bit of salt just makes food taste better. However, salt has a myriad of uses. It can be used make ice cream freeze in a freezer, whip cream quicker, seal cracks, remove spots on clothes, remove rust, clean bamboo furniture, keep cut flowers fresh, treat many illnesses, from sore throats to dyspepsia, put out grease fires, and preserve foods (Kurlansky 5-6). Salt is more than a mineral, it has been used as money, it saves lives, and it can help cause high blood pressure. Is salt good or evil? It seems it is a little of both.


Fascinatingly, when sugar was first discovered, it was likened to salt. Food historian Toussaint-Samat notes, "medieval Europe called the crystallized sap of sugar cane 'white salt' or 'Indian salt'" (Toussaint-Samat 552). Many people believe the Chinese first discovered how to make sugar out of cane, but others believe it was the Indians who taught the Chinese. Toussaint-Samat continues, "Sugar cane, a giant grass, is native to India and particularly the Ganges delta" (Toussaint-Samat 552). Some writings indicate Indians were eating cane and syrup from cane as long ago as 1200 B.C. Initially, in ancient cultures, sugar was only used in medicines, to make them more palatable. Sugar was imported from India into Europe, but it was Arabs who built the first sugar refinery sometime around the year 1000 (Toussaint-Samat 552-553). They grew cane, and began to establish refineries and plantations in other parts of the world. Eventually, sugar would help many Arabs grow increasingly wealthy. Venetians built the first modern sugar refinery, improving the Arab techniques, and building their own set of refineries around the world. Like salt, sugar was immensely popular in Europe, and it began to be traded heavily. In addition, like salt, sugar was taxed in most of the countries. When cargos of sugar landed in European ports, the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Sugar and Salt" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Sugar and Salt.  (2004, December 2).  Retrieved October 24, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Sugar and Salt."  2 December 2004.  Web.  24 October 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Sugar and Salt."  December 2, 2004.  Accessed October 24, 2021.