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The taste of salt is the taste of life. The word salt and saliva come from the same Latin root. Salt helps control our internal electric circuitry. It is in our blood, our sweat, our tears. It is the flavour of our essence.

Salt is the only pure rock we savour. It was once a rare and prized mineral, extracted from mines with slave labour or slowly and deliberately harvested from the sea. It was brought over the Arabian peninsula on the backs of camels. It was a treasure kept in salt boxes and used sparingly at the table.

Now we have too much. We throw it on roads to melt snow. A table without a salt shaker is not yet ready for dinner. There is hardly a recipe that doesn’t call for it. We have become addicted. It is the most elemental of foods but its flavour is hard to describe.

Salt tastes, well, salty. But that isn’t quite so. In front of me are samples of four salts. There is Diamond Crystal, chemically pure salt—a little sodium, a little chlorine and voila! sodium chloride. Add a dash of sodium silicoaluminate to keep it running free, a hint of dextrose to sweeten it and a touch of potassium iodide to return some of the iodine to us that we would normally get from sea salt. This is ordinary table salt but it is the taste my tongue is used to. The tongue says “right, salt, so what. Put it on some celery, put it on my meat. Everything tastes better because this is how I eat.” This is the salt of habit. It pours easily from salt shakers. It is a technological marvel that has never touched the earth or felt the funkiness of the sea.

I try some generic sea salt from a “health food” store. Surprisingly, this tastes just like the Diamond Crystal only with a stronger saltiness. This is the salt I have been using because it seemed more natural, more virtuous; but now that I compare it with the Diamond Crystal I feel that it hasn’t been worth the difference in price. A taste of either leaves my tongue parched.

Next is Le Paludier, a sea salt from Brittany. It looks like fine sand under a gray sky. The crystals glint silver in the room light. This salt tastes different. It is fresher tasting, with a slight earthiness. It is complex, made from what the sea offered and the stones that ground it left as residue. I can touch the salt to my tongue and not feel desiccation set in. My saliva increases to wash the sea away. It is a good taste.

And then there is La Baleine—large crystals of naturally evaporated sea salt from France. It crunches satisfyingly between my teeth and dissolves quickly in my mouth. It grinds beautifully in an inexpensive mill. The flavour is savory but the level of saltiness feels normal. It is not overpowering. Within a few seconds the brininess has moved to the back of my mouth. A moment later it is as tasty a memory as being washed by a warm wave.

© Barry Lazar 2000

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