Salt is mentioned in religious texts from virtually every recorded religion. Most languages also have idiomatic expressions including the word salt. "Salt of the earth" dates back to the Bible, and the phrase "taken with a grain of salt" was used as early as 77 AD. "Salty dog" in slang can refer to an experienced sailor.
Several years ago, on a trip through the Sacred Valley in Peru, we stopped at the Maras Salt Mines, believed to be in use since Inca times. We descended upon these salt pools in a small bus, our driver navigating the bumpy dirt roads down a steep downward climb to the mine. The views were magnificent as we approached these terraced pools. When we arrived we saw that all of these pools were fed by just a thin stream coming from the mountain. Several salt farmers were busy harvesting and transporting the salt. Throughout history salt has often been a form of controversy, and at the Mara Salt Mines, we learned that these poor farmers were not immune. They work under the heat of the sun in difficult circumstances for a mere pittance, while their famous Incan salt makes it onto the tables of the finest restaurants in Peru.
Until I was about 11 years old, I regarded salt as what came in the blue cardboard canister with the girl and the umbrella on the label and the pour-spout that made a funny noise when I opened it. My family was never big on salting our food at the table. Then we traveled to Spain one summer and my grandmother took us to see a salt mine in the Mediterranean. As I squinted through the sun at the mountains of salt being raked up by heavy machinery, for the first time I made the connection to the source of this ubiquitous mineral. An elementary discovery on my part, but important.
Funny how times and trends change. In the 80's as a kid, salt was really just salt. Over the years it has become a coveted, specialty kitchen item. Pink salt from the Himalayas, French fleur de del, grey and black rock salt, sold in elegant jars with fancy labels and rustic boxes with cork lids. I remember buying my first fleur de sel years ago in France and cradling it in my hands like an expensive gift, then scooping it out carefully to add to my dishes as if it were flakes of gold.
Sometimes seeing things from a new perspective makes them all the more clear. Salt can sustain life or be very dangerous in excess. Laws regulating salt started civil disobedience in India. Salt can ruin a meal at an expensive restaurant. It can turn watermelon even sweeter or make your tastebuds sing when sprinkled on top of chocolate chip cookies. Human beings contain about 8 ounces of salt. I like to think mine is fleur de sel.