In the chemical sense a salt is any compound that results from the neutralisation of an acid with a base (or alkali) -- which also yields water. These compounds are normally ionic and crystalline in nature. Common Salt (sodium chloride) is a chemical salt resulting from the neutralisation of hydrochloric acid with sodium hydroxide.

In cooking, salt is hands-down the most often used additive, bar none. But there are actually a multitude of salts available, especially in gourmet cooking, and knowing the difference will help you sound interesting and knowledgeable and pretentious, so let's jump right in.

Salt for cooking generally comes from one of two sources: salt mines or the sea. Really, a salt mine is generally just a dried up sea bed, so I guess it all eventually comes from the same place, but if you were to read a salt industry magazine (and no doubt such things exist) they would tell you that the sources are different, so I will perpetuate the story. These days most salt comes from salt mines, simply because it's cheaper than evaporating or filtering large quantities of salt water, which is your other option.

Normal, everyday table salt, like almost all other salts used in cooking, is basically Sodium Chloride, NaCl, but is almost always iodized. This means iodine has been added, to save you from that all-too-common fate of hypothyroidism (aka a goiter,) something I know you're all very worried about. It also generally has additives to make it pour nicely, and not clump up. Though it is no doubt the salt in 99% of the world's salt shakers, it's actually not what professional chefs (and wannabe professional chefs) use.

People who get really into cooking, tend to gravitate towards either sea salt or kosher salt. Sea salt is just salt that comes from sea water, instead of from the aforementioned salt mines. It tends to be chunkier than iodized salt, and often is used with a salt grinder. Sea salt seems to be popular for some because it is seen as more natural in some way -- don't ask me how artificially evaporating sea water is more natural than picking up salt deposits off a dry sea bed though, because I don't know.

The other salt, kosher salt, is by far the most common among professional cooks. The fact that it's kosher isn't really what's important; that just means, in this case, that it was prepared without additives and presumably according to some religious guidelines. In practice though, kosher salt has a slightly coarser grain, which is easier to pinch and therefore sprinkle to taste, as so many recipes call for. When Emeril Lagasse picks up some salt and goes Ba-BAM! you can bet he's using kosher salt. Kosher salt also has a milder salt flavour than (iodized) table salt, allowing you a little more control over the taste of your dishes.

The uses of salt are far too myriad to go into, but it's a safe bet that you can add it to just about every recipe, and indeed, you'll find it's already included in most of them. One handy cooking property it has, aside from taste, is that it helps to prevent pasta noodles from sticking, and therefore is almost universally added to water used for cooking pasta.

I got a great tip a while ago from a TV chef named Bobby Flay about the various salts: a taste test. He suggested getting a crisp vegetable like celery or cucumber, and dipping a piece in each of the salts, to see how they differed in taste and texture. If you're just getting into cooking, this is a great idea, and has the side benefit that, whatever you decide, you will end up with some of each salt, whatever's left after the tasting.

salescritter = S = salt mines

salt n.

A tiny bit of near-random data inserted where too much regularity would be undesirable; a data frob (sense 1). For example, the Unix crypt(3) man page mentions that "the salt string is used to perturb the DES algorithm in one of 4096 different ways."

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

Salt is essential to life, at least animal life: it regulates fluid balance and aids in movement, nerve impulses, digestion, and the healing of wounds. All vertebrates contain about 9 grams of salt per litre of blood; the ocean contains four times as much salt as blood does, in case you were wondering.

The good Johnath is correct that all salt is, in essence, sea salt, for salt mines are indeed simply dried up old oceans. They are generally underground, and when the area is mined, only about half the salt is removed; the other half remains as pillars that prevent the mine from collapsing. The largest salt mine in the world is right here in my home province of Ontario; it extends several miles under Lake Huron, and isn't actually mined. Instead, water is pumped down into pockets in the salt bed, and then pumped back up as brine; the water is then boiled off, leaving almost pure salt.

In ancient times not everyone had easy access to salt, so it was considered precious in some places. Intrepid explorer Marco Polo reported that in Tibet salt cakes were pressed with an image and used as currency; salt bars were similary employed in Ethiopia. In ancient times salt was used for alomancy, a kind of divination. The Greeks traded slaves for salt, and a bad slave was "not worth his salt". Roman soldiers were paid a salarium argentium to allow them to buy salt; this is the origin of the word salary. In 2200 BC the Chinese emperor Hsia Yu levied a tax on salt, creating a nasty precedent that we have been unable to extricate ourselves from to this day; the French Revolution was precipitated, in part, by the notorious gabelle, or salt tax. And I must mention salt's connection with bad luck, at least if it's spilled; Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper graphically represents this connection by showing Judas Iscariot as having knocked over a bowl of salt. If you spill salt, throw some over your left shoulder to blind the spirits who lurk there, taking care, of course, not to similarly incapacitate the good guys on your right side. (Or so they say, anyway; do take this sage advice with a grain of salt.)

Salt became an essential ingredient for its preservative qualities, and although we think of the modern diet as high in salt, we would apparently be shocked if we tasted beef, pork, or fish in the style of a few hundred years ago, for it was heavily salted to keep it from rotting. Why does this work? Because salt draws the water out of bacteria, causing the evil things to die. Today salt is used as a preservative in foods like bacon and cheese. And of course it's a very popular flavour enhancer, as my able colleagues have mentioned.

When salt became a common table condiment, it was sold in blocks and ground at home. It was served in salt cellars (basically a small pot or bowl with a lid and a spoon) which were placed near the host at the head of the table. Where one sat in relation to the salt (and the host) - "above the salt" or "below the salt" - was a marker of relative status. In the early twentieth century moisture-absorbing agents began to be added to salt, and it was sold as a powder. Hence the salt cellar was replaced by the salt shaker, though the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

Among the varieties of salt not mentioned above are the grey moist sel gris and the off-white lacy fleur de sel from France; they are considered to be the champagne of sea salts. Flaky white Maldon salt is harvested in Essex, England; Hawaiian salt is pinky and contains clay; black rock salt from India is actually pink and sulphurous smelling (but not, apparently, so tasting); and Korean bamboo salt is made from sea salt poured into bamboo cylinders which are plugged with clay and roasted over a resinous pine fire. There's also a type of low sodium salt that substitutes potassium chloride for some of the sodium chloride.

Much of this pleasing trivia was gleaned from an article in LCBO's Food and Drink magazine, fall 2001.

In Labor relations a salt is a union worker who pretends to be non-union in order to hire on to a non-union contractor, or what is known as a merit shop. The union hopes that the 'salt' will form relationships with his or her co-workers which will make them more amenable to listening to a union sales pitch. Simple fact is that a sales pitch becomes a lot more believable when it comes from someone you know.

Naturally the owners of non-union firms know this and they often try very hard not to hire union workers. But that is often difficult, particularly when the employment rates are high and skilled labor is in demand. As a first year apprentice my job was salted by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. We all found out the day he showed up wearing an I.B.E.W. t-shirt. The pitch came at lunch.

There wasn't much my employer could do. He was a good worker, technically competent and played well with others. The National Labor Relations Act is quite specific in stating that an employee may not be fired solely for engaging in union activity. In the early days of the Labor movement, less scrupulous employers inflicted far worse than discharge on union workers. Today such extreme reactions are rare or nonexistent, as is the company store. Employers try more subtle, indirect methods to drive out any suspected salt. More important, construction jobs man-up and then man-down as the job approaches completion. Our salt was the first to go.

To "Salt" something is also to add fraudulent value.

For example, in the days of the gold rush and land speculation, unscrupulous miners would "salt" a played-out or never-useful mine or stream with some gold nuggests and/or dust, then sell the land to an unwitting person who thought they were getting valuable property.

This has also been extended to mean any kind of bait placed into something to make it appear more valuable than it is in order to trap someone in a sting. The difference between salting something with gold or other valuable ingredient as opposed to plating or covering it for fraudulent purposes is that salting something means implanting the misleading material into the subject in question.

Salt

Worth more than gold
where it doesn't get cold
'cause I keep that fish real fresh

and the taste of death
on a chicken breast
makes that chicken breast the best

Dash these bitter seas
wherever you please
but I'll give you heart disease

and throw me in the dirt
if you want to do hurt
bring a broke man to his knees.

My birth is due to Mother Earth
She's got a bad sense of humor;
I'm a treat
I keep it sweet
a gift, a gun, a tumor

Salt (?), n. [AS. sealt; akin to OS. & OFries. salt, D. zout, G. salz, Icel., Sw., & Dan. salt, L. sal, Gr. &?;, Russ. sole, Ir. & Gael. salann, W. halen, of unknown origin. Cf. Sal, Salad, Salary, Saline, Sauce, Sausage.]

1.

The chloride of sodium, a substance used for seasoning food, for the preservation of meat, etc. It is found native in the earth, and is also produced, by evaporation and crystallization, from sea water and other water impregnated with saline particles.

2.

Hence, flavor; taste; savor; smack; seasoning.

Though we are justices and doctors and churchmen . . . we have some salt of our youth in us.
Shak.

3.

Hence, also, piquancy; wit; sense; as, Attic salt.

4.

A dish for salt at table; a saltcellar.

I out and bought some things; among others, a dozen of silver salts.
Pepys.

5.

A sailor; -- usually qualified by old. [Colloq.]

Around the door are generally to be seen, laughing and gossiping, clusters of old salts.
Hawthorne.

6. (Chem.)

The neutral compound formed by the union of an acid and a base; thus, sulphuric acid and iron form the salt sulphate of iron or green vitriol.

⇒ Except in case of ammonium salts, accurately speaking, it is the acid radical which unites with the base or basic radical, with the elimination of hydrogen, of water, or of analogous compounds as side products. In the case of diacid and triacid bases, and of dibasic and tribasic acids, the mutual neutralization may vary in degree, producing respectively basic, neutral, or acid salts. See Phrases below.

7.

Fig.: That which preserves from corruption or error; that which purifies; a corrective; an antiseptic; also, an allowance or deduction; as, his statements must be taken with a grain of salt.

Ye are the salt of the earth.
Matt. v. 13.

8. pl.

Any mineral salt used as an aperient or cathartic, especially Epsom salts, Rochelle salt, or Glauber's salt.

9. pl.

Marshes flooded by the tide. [Prov. Eng.]

Above the salt, Below the salt, phrases which have survived the old custom, in the houses of people of rank, of placing a large saltcellar near the middle of a long table, the places above which were assigned to the guests of distinction, and those below to dependents, inferiors, and poor relations. See Saltfoot.

His fashion is not to take knowledge of him that is beneath him in clothes. He never drinks below the salt.
B. Jonson.

--
Acid salt (Chem.)
(a) A salt derived from an acid which has several replaceable hydrogen atoms which are only partially exchanged for metallic atoms or basic radicals; as, acid potassium sulphate is an acid salt.
(b) A salt, whatever its constitution, which merely gives an acid reaction; thus, copper sulphate, which is composed of a strong acid united with a weak base, is an acid salt in this sense, though theoretically it is a neutral salt. --
Alkaline salt (Chem.), a salt which gives an alkaline reaction, as sodium carbonate. --
Amphid salt (Old Chem.), a salt of the oxy type, formerly regarded as composed of two oxides, an acid and a basic oxide. [Obsolescent] --
Basic salt (Chem.)
(a) A salt which contains more of the basic constituent than is required to neutralize the acid.
(b) An alkaline salt. --
Binary salt (Chem.), a salt of the oxy type conveniently regarded as composed of two ingredients (analogously to a haloid salt), viz., a metal and an acid radical. --
Double salt (Chem.), a salt regarded as formed by the union of two distinct salts, as common alum, potassium aluminium sulphate. See under Double. --
Epsom salts. See in the Vocabulary. --
Essential salt (Old Chem.), a salt obtained by crystallizing plant juices. --
Ethereal salt. (Chem.) See under Ethereal. --
Glauber's salt or salts. See in Vocabulary. --
Haloid salt (Chem.), a simple salt of a halogen acid, as sodium chloride. --
Microcosmic salt. (Chem.). See under Microcosmic. --
Neutral salt. (Chem.)
(a) A salt in which the acid and base (in theory) neutralize each other.
(b) A salt which gives a neutral reaction. --
Oxy salt (Chem.), a salt derived from an oxygen acid. --
Per salt (Old Chem.), a salt supposed to be derived from a peroxide base or analogous compound. [Obs.] --
Permanent salt, a salt which undergoes no change on exposure to the air. --
Proto salt (Chem.), a salt derived from a protoxide base or analogous compound. --
Rochelle salt. See under Rochelle. --
Salt of amber (Old Chem.), succinic acid. --
Salt of colcothar (Old Chem.), green vitriol, or sulphate of iron. --
Salt of hartshorn. (Old Chem.)
(a) Sal ammoniac, or ammonium chloride.
(b) Ammonium carbonate. Cf. Spirit of hartshorn, under Hartshorn. --
Salt of lemons. (Chem.) See Salt of sorrel, below. --
Salt of Saturn (Old Chem.), sugar of lead; lead acetate; -- the alchemical name of lead being Saturn. --
Salt of Seignette. Same as Rochelle salt. --
Salt of soda (Old Chem.), sodium carbonate. --
Salt of sorrel (Old Chem.), acid potassium oxalate, or potassium quadroxalate, used as a solvent for ink stains; -- so called because found in the sorrel, or Oxalis. Also sometimes inaccurately called salt of lemon. --
Salt of tartar (Old Chem.), potassium carbonate; -- so called because formerly made by heating cream of tartar, or potassium tartrate. [Obs.] --
Salt of Venus (Old Chem.), blue vitriol; copper sulphate; -- the alchemical name of copper being Venus. --
Salt of wisdom. See Alembroth. --
Sedative salt (Old Med. Chem.), boric acid. --
Sesqui salt (Chem.), a salt derived from a sesquioxide base or analogous compound. --
Spirit of salt. (Chem.) See under Spirit. --
Sulpho salt (Chem.), a salt analogous to an oxy salt, but containing sulphur in place of oxygen.

 

© Webster 1913


Salt (?), a. [Compar. Salter (?); superl. Saltest.] [AS. sealt, salt. See Salt, n.]

1.

Of or relating to salt; abounding in, or containing, salt; prepared or preserved with, or tasting of, salt; salted; as, salt beef; salt water. "Salt tears." Chaucer.

2.

Overflowed with, or growing in, salt water; as, a salt marsh; salt grass.

3.

Fig.: Bitter; sharp; pungent.

I have a salt and sorry rheum offends me.
Shak.

4.

Fig.: Salacious; lecherous; lustful. Shak.

Salt acid (Chem.), hydrochloric acid. --
Salt block, an apparatus for evaporating brine; a salt factory. Knight. --
Salt bottom, a flat piece of ground covered with saline efflorescences. [Western U.S.] Bartlett. --
Salt cake (Chem.), the white caked mass, consisting of sodium sulphate, which is obtained as the product of the first stage in the manufacture of soda, according to Leblanc's process. --
Salt fish.
(a) Salted fish, especially cod, haddock, and similar fishes that have been salted and dried for food.
(b) A marine fish. --
Salt garden, an arrangement for the natural evaporation of sea water for the production of salt, employing large shallow basins excavated near the seashore. --
Salt gauge, an instrument used to test the strength of brine; a salimeter. --
Salt horse, salted beef. [Slang] --
Salt junk, hard salt beef for use at sea. [Slang] --
Salt lick. See Lick, n. --
Salt marsh, grass land subject to the overflow of salt water. --
Salt-marsh caterpillar (Zoöl.), an American bombycid moth (Spilosoma acræa which is very destructive to the salt-marsh grasses and to other crops. Called also woolly bear. See Illust. under Moth, Pupa, and Woolly bear, under Woolly. --
Salt-marsh fleabane (Bot.), a strong-scented composite herb (Pluchea camphorata) with rayless purplish heads, growing in salt marshes. --
Salt-marsh hen (Zoöl.), the clapper rail. See under Rail. --
Salt- marsh terrapin (Zoöl.), the diamond- back. --
Salt mine, a mine where rock salt is obtained. --
Salt pan.
(a) A large pan used for making salt by evaporation; also, a shallow basin in the ground where salt water is evaporated by the heat of the sun.
(b) pl. Salt works. --
Salt pit, a pit where salt is obtained or made. --
Salt rising, a kind of yeast in which common salt is a principal ingredient. [U.S.] --
Salt raker, one who collects salt in natural salt ponds, or inclosures from the sea. --
Salt sedative (Chem.), boracic acid. [Obs.] --
Salt spring, a spring of salt water. --
Salt tree (Bot.), a small leguminous tree (Halimodendron argenteum) growing in the salt plains of the Caspian region and in Siberia. --
Salt water, water impregnated with salt, as that of the ocean and of certain seas and lakes; sometimes, also, tears.

Mine eyes are full of tears, I can not see;
And yet salt water blinds them not so much
But they can see a sort of traitors here.
Shak.

--
Salt-water sailor, an ocean mariner. --
Salt-water tailor. (Zoöl.) See Bluefish.

 

© Webster 1913


Salt, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Salted; p. pr. & vb. n. Salting.]

1.

To sprinkle, impregnate, or season with salt; to preserve with salt or in brine; to supply with salt; as, to salt fish, beef, or pork; to salt cattle.

2.

To fill with salt between the timbers and planks, as a ship, for the preservation of the timber.

To salt a mine, to artfully deposit minerals in a mine in order to deceive purchasers regarding its value. [Cant] --
To salt away, To salt down, to prepare with, or pack in, salt for preserving, as meat, eggs, etc.; hence, colloquially, to save, lay up, or invest sagely, as money.

 

© Webster 1913


Salt (?), v. i.

To deposit salt as a saline solution; as, the brine begins to salt.

 

© Webster 1913


Salt (?), n. [L. saltus, fr. salire to leap.]

The act of leaping or jumping; a leap. [Obs.] B. Jonson.

 

© Webster 1913

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