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Salt: A World History [Format Kindle]

Mark Kurlansky

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Amazon.co.uk

Very early in his book, Kurlansky refers to an essay by the psychoanalyst Ernest Jones on man's obsession with salt. Whether or not man, in general, has an obsession with salt may be debatable. That one man in particular--Mark Kurlansky--has, is made more than clear by this unusual and enjoyable book. He seems to have set out to put between the covers of one volume every single fact about the history of man's relationship with salt that he could unearth. How the Ancient Greeks salted their tuna. Why the Mayans used salt as a medicine in healing rituals. The story of the great salt merchants of China. The French tax on salt and how its injustice contributed to the French Revolution. Why Gandhi chose salt as a symbol of the Raj's oppression. Kurlansky ranges through the centuries and across the world to tell the story of salt. As a prize-winning food writer he is particularly good on the ways salt has shaped our eating habits and once again, as in his earlier book Cod, he seasons his text with recipes he has come across in his research. In the course of 450 pages the reader may occasionally feel that here is a book that tells one more about salt than one wants to know but, for most of those pages, Kurlansky's enthusiasm, knowledge and style create an engrossing tale.--Nick Rennison

Extrait

Once I stood on the bank of a rice paddy in rural Sichuan Province, and a lean and aging Chinese peasant, wearing a faded forty-year-old blue jacket issued by the Mao government in the early years of the Revolution, stood knee deep in water and apropos of absolutely nothing shouted defiantly at me, "We Chinese invented many things!"

The Chinese are proud of their inventions. All Chinese leaders, including Mao Zedong, sooner or later give a speech listing the many Chinese firsts. Though rural China these days seems in need of a new round of inventions, it is irrefutably true that the Chinese originated many of the pivotal creations of history, including papermaking, printing, gunpowder, and the compass.

China is the oldest literate society still in existence, and its 4,000 years of written history begin as a history of inventions. It is no longer clear when legends were made into men and when living historic figures were turned into legends. Chinese history starts in the same manner as Old Testament history. In the Book of Genesis, first come the legends, the story of the Creation, mythical figures such as Adam and Eve and Noah, generations of people who may or may not have lived, and gradually the generations are followed to Abraham, the beginning of documented Hebrew history.

In Chinese history, first was Pangu, the creator, who made humans from parasites on his body. He died but was followed by wise rulers, who invented the things that made China the first civilization.Fuxi was first to domesticate animals. Apparently an enthusiast for domesticity, he is also credited with inventing marriage. Next came Shennong, who invented medicine, agriculture, and trade. He is credited with the plow and the hoe. Then came Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, who invented writing, the bow and arrow, the cart, and ceramics. Several centuries after Huangdi came Emperor Yao, a wise ruler who passed over his unqualified son and named a modest sage, Shun, his successor. Shun chose his minister, Yu, to succeed him. In 2205 B.C., according to tradition, Yu founded the Xia dynasty, and this dynasty, which lasted until 1766 B.C., enters into documented history.



Chinese salt history begins with the mythical Huangdi, who invented writing, weaponry, and transportation. According to the legends, he also had the distinction of presiding over the first war ever fought over salt.

One of the earliest verifiable saltworks in prehistoric China was in the northern province of Shanxi. In this arid region of dry yellow earth and desert mountains is a lake of salty water, Lake Yuncheng. This area was known for constant warfare, and all of the wars were over control of the lake. Chinese historians are certain that by 6000 B.C., each year, when the lake's waters evaporated in the summer sun, people harvested the square crystals on the surface of the water, a system the Chinese referred to as "dragging and gathering." Human bones found around the lake have been dated much earlier, and some historians speculate that these inhabitants may also have gathered salt from the lake.

The earliest written record of salt production in China dates to around 800 B.C. and tells of production and trade of sea salt a millennium before, during the Xia dynasty. It is not known if the techniques described in this account were actually used during the Xia dynasty, but they were considered old ways by the time of this account, which describes putting ocean water in clay vessels and boiling it until reduced to pots of salt crystals. This was the technique that was spread through southern Europe by the Roman Empire, 1,000 years after the Chinese account was written.

About 1000 B.C., iron first came into use in China, though the first evidence of it being used in salt making is not until 450 B.C. by a man named Yi Dun. According to a passage written in 129 B.C., "Yi Dun rose to prominence by producing salt in pans." Yi Dun is believed to have made salt by boiling brine in iron pans, an innovation which would become one of the leading techniques for salt making for the next 2,000 years. The legend says that he worked with an ironmaster named Guo Zong and was also friendly with an enterprising wealthy bureaucrat named Fan Li. Fan Li is credited with inventing fish farming, which for centuries after was associated with salt-producing areas. The Chinese, like later Europeans, saw that salt and fish were partners. Many Chinese, including Mencius, the famous Confucian thinker who lived from 372 to 289 B.C., were said to have worked selling both fish and salt.



Throughout the long history of China, sprinkling salt directly on food has been a rarity. Usually it has been added during cooking by means of various condiments—salt-based sauces and pastes. The usual explanation is that salt was expensive and it was stretched by these condiments. A recurring idea throughout the ancient world from the Mediterranean to Southeast Asia, fish fermented in salt was one of the most popular salt condiments in ancient China. It was called jiang. But in China soybeans were added to ferment with the fish, and in time the fish was dropped altogether from the recipe and jiang became jiangyou, or, as it is called in the West, soy sauce.

Soy is a legume that produces beans, two or three in a two-inch-long furry pod. The beans can be yellow, green, brown, purple, black, or spotted, and Chinese cooking makes a great distinction among these varieties. Jiangyou is made from yellow beans, but other types are also fermented with salt to produce different pastes and condiments. In China, the earliest written mention of soy is in the sixth century B.C., describing the plant as a 700-year-old crop from the north. Soy was brought to Japan from China in the sixth century A.D. by Chinese Buddhist missionaries. Both the religion and the bean were successfully implanted. But the Japanese did not make soy sauce until the tenth century. Once they did learn, they called it shoyu and industrialized it and sold it around the world.

Though jiangyou and shoyu are pronounced very differently and appear to be very different words in Western writing, the two words are written with the same character in Japanese and Chinese. Mao's 1950s literacy campaign simplified the language to some 40,000 characters, but a pre-Mao character for the soy plant, su, depicts little roots at the bottom which revive the soil. Soy puts nutrients back into the soil and can restore fields that have been exhausted by other crops. The bean is so nutritious that a person could be sustained for a considerable period on nothing but water, soy, and salt.



The process by which the Chinese, and later the Japanese, fermented beans in earthen pots is today known as lactic acid fermentation, or, in more common jargon, pickling. Optimum lactic fermentation takes place between sixty-four and seventy-one degrees Fahrenheit, which in most of the world is an easily achieved environment.

As vegetables begin to rot, the sugars break down and produce lactic acid, which serves as a preservative. Theoretically, pickling can be accomplished without salt, but the carbohydrates and proteins in the vegetables tend to putrefy too quickly to be saved by the emerging lactic acid. Without salt, yeast forms, and the fermentation process leads to alcohol rather than pickles.

Between .8 and 1.5 percent of the vegetable's weight in salt holds off the rotting process until the lactic acid can take over. Excluding oxygen, either by sealing the jar or, more usually, by weighting the vegetables so that they remain immersed in liquid, is necessary for successful lactic fermentation.

The ancient Chinese pickled in earthen jars, which caused a white film called kahm yeast, harmless but unpleasant tasting, to form on the top. Every two weeks the cloth, board, and stone weighting the vegetables had to be washed or even boiled to remove the film. This added work is why pickling in earthen jars has not remained popular.

In Sichuan, pickled vegetables are still a staple. They are served with rice, which is never salted. The salty vegetables contrast pleasantly with the blandness of the warm but unseasoned rice gruel that is a common breakfast food. In effect, the pickles are salting the rice.

South of the Sichuan capital of Chengdu, lies Zigong, a hilly provincial salt town that grew into a city because of its preponderance of brine wells. The crowded, narrow, downhill open-air market in the center of town continues to sell salt and special pickling jars for the two local specialties, paocai and zhacai. A woman at the market who sold the glass pickling jars offered this recipe for paocai:


Fill the jar two-thirds with brine. Add whatever vegetables you like and whatever spice you like, cover, and the vegetables are ready in two days.


The spices added are usually hot red Sichuan peppers or ginger, a perennial herb of Indian origin, known to the Chinese since ancient times. The red pepper, today a central ingredient of Sichuan cooking, did not arrive until the sixteenth century, carried to Europe by Columbus, to India by the Portuguese, and to China by either the Indians, Portuguese, Andalusians, or Basques.

Paocai that is eaten in two days is obviously more about flavor than preserving. After two days the vegetables are still very crisp, and the salt maintains, even brightens, the color. Zhacai is made with salt instead of brine, alternating layers of vegetables with layers of salt crystals. In time a brine is formed from the juices the salt pulls out of the vegetables. When a peasant has a baby girl, the family puts up a vegetable every year and gives the jars to her when she's married. This shows how long zhacai is kept before eating. The original medieval idea was to marry her after twelve or fifteen jars. Today it usually takes a few more vegetables.

The Chinese also solved the delicate problem of trans...


Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 2096 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 494 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 0676972683
  • Editeur : Penguin Books (28 janvier 2003)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B00BPDN33W
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Amazon.com: 4.0 étoiles sur 5  463 commentaires
260 internautes sur 282 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Definitely worth his salt . . . 7 avril 2004
Par Stephen A. Haines - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
It's become a party cliche to comment on our need for the results of combining a poisonous gas [chlorine] and a volatile metal [sodium]. Kurlansky passes quickly over such levity to seriously relate the role of sodium chloride in human society. While at first glance his account may seem overdone, a bit of reflection reveals that something so common in our lives is easily overlooked. Salt is essential to our existence. Our need is so strong and enduring that we tend to take its availability for granted. As a global history, this book is an ambitious attempt to re-introduce us to something we think common and uninteresting. It's immensely successful through Kurlansky's multi-faceted approach. He combines economics, politics, culinary practices, tradition and myth in making his presentation. About the only aspect ignored is the detailed biological one explaining why this compound is so necessary to our existence.
Because our need for salt is so fundamental, its history encompasses that of humanity. Salt was basic to many economies, Kurlansky notes. It's acted as the basis of exchange between traders, was the target of empire builders and even paid out to soldiers as a form of "salary" - hence the term. Venice, a coastal city tucked away from the main tracks of Mediterranean trade, bloomed into prominence when it discovered it could garner more profit by trading in salt than by manufacturing it. The Venetian empire and later renaissance was founded on the salt trade.
Empires may be built on salt, but can be felled by misguided policies on its trade and consumption. One element leading to the downfall of the French monarchy was the hated "gabelle", or salt tax, which imposed a heavier burden on farming peasants than it did on the aristocracy. The reputation of tax evasion borne by the French relates to the resentment expressed over the salt tax. A British regulation on salt resulted in similar reaction leading to the breakup up their own Empire. It was a "march to the sea" led by Mahatma Ghandi to collect salt that galvanised resistance to British rule. Over a century after the French Revolution, the British were displaced from India for similar reasons - greed.
While acknowledging the importance of salt in our lives, Kurlansky notes that determining how much is "too little" or "too much" is elusive. Many people today claim to have "salt-free" diets while remaining ignorant of how much salt is contained in our foods, both naturally and through processing. Yet, as Kurlansky records, salt has appeal beyond just the body's needs. He records numerous commentators from ancient Egypt, China and Rome who express their admiration for salt's flavour-adding qualities. Sauces based on various ingredients mixed with salt permeate the book. He notes that the salt dispenser is a modern innovation, supplementing the use of salt in cooking processes.
Salt's decline in conserving food, which changed the amount of salt we consume directly, came about due to increased world trade, displacement of rural populations into cities, and, of course, war. "The first blow" displacing salt as a preservative came from a Parisian cook; a man so obscure that his given name remains disputed. Nicolas [Francois?] Appert worked out how to preserve meat by "canning". Adopted by Napoleon's armies, the technique spread rapidly. The technology of the Industrial Revolution led to effective refrigeration. Kurlansky gives an account of Clarence Birdseye's efforts to found what became a major industry.
Although the topic seems overspecialised, the universal application and long historical view of this book establishes its importance. Kurlansky has successfully met an immense challenge in presenting a wealth of information. That he graces what might have been a dry pedantic exercise with recipes, anecdotes, photographs and maps grants this book wide appeal. He's to be congratulated for his worldly view and comprehensive presentation. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
80 internautes sur 87 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Worth his Salt 2 février 2002
Par Amazon Customer - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Yes, Kurlansky is worth his salt as a writer, researcher and uncoverer of unknown facts about odd subjects. As he did with his previous non fiction books he has woven strands of information into an interesting tapestry, equal parts - enthralling history lesson and cultural voyage. The only problem is - at 450 pages and 26 chapters, with numerous visits to different cultures, countries, eras and rulers in an attempt to cover as many of the 14,000 uses that salt is known for - finishing SALT: A WORLD HISTORY leaves you in a brine of facts, but also very thirsty for a unifying theme or story and a more memorable read.
Certainly my knowledge of historical trivia is now seasoned with tidbits such as: the Anglo-Saxon word for saltworks being 'wich' means that places such as Norwich, Greenwich, etc, in England were once ancient salt mines; Ghandi's independence movement in India began with his defying the British salt laws, and the French levied taxes on salt until as recently as 1946.
A common theme in Kurlansky's books is that food is seen as a topic of historical interest. Here we learn about the role salt played in preserving cod, whale, ham, herring, caviar, pastrami, salami and sausage, and as it was with COD and THE BASQUE HISTORY OF THE WORLD this book is sprinkled throughout with recipes.
Salt is certainly an interesting subject; cultural history buffs will love this book and Kurlansky still has a humorous, easy, and very readable writing style; it's just that he probably could have salted away some of the facts without us missing much and he should have developed a flowing theme rather than one that was so saltatory.
145 internautes sur 162 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Taking a love of Salt to its logical extreme 7 décembre 2003
Par Keith Smith - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Salt is one of those things that turned up all over the place in my high school studies. It turned up in chemisty (sodium chloride), in biology (the amount of salt in our bodies and what we do with it), in history and English (check out the root of the word: "salary"). So sure, salt's important. But does it merit its own entire book about its history? Turns out the answer is both yes and no...
I like these small, focused histories (as you've probably guessed if you've read any of the other reviews I've written). I've read many of them, including another one by Mark Kurlansky, Cod (which I rather enjoyed). So when I ran across Salt, I was certain I wanted to read it. I liked Kurlansky's style, and I already knew that the subject matter would be interesting.
And it was. In Salt, Kurlansky walks through both the history of salt and the influence of salt on history, presenting a wide and varied picture of one of the [now] most common elements in our modern world. And he does this in the same engaging fashion that he used in Cod; although, with fewer recipes. So why not give it five stars? Well, it has a couple of noticable flaws that tended to detract a bit from the overall presentation.
The first flaw was in the sheer number of historical snippets that were included. While I'm certain that salt has been important in the broad span of human history, there are a number of these historical anecdotes where he was clearly reaching to demonstrate the influence of salt. Salt may have been involved in these incidents, but it was peripheral at best, and the overall tone sounds too much like cheerleading. Cutting a few of these out would have shortened the book without detracting from the presentation at all.
The second flaw was the meandering path that he takes through the history of salt. He generally starts early in history, and his discussion moves along roughly as history does as well; however, he has a tendency to wander a bit both forward and backward without effectively tying all of this together. I'd have preferred to either walk straight through history while skipping around the world (effectively comparing the use and influence of salt around the world) or to have taken more time to discuss why we were rewinding (effectively following one thread to its conclusion and then picking up another parallel one). To me it made the presentation a little too choppy.
There have been other criticisms as well; for example, the chemistry is incorrect in a number of places, but if you're using this as a chemical reference, then you've got serious issues with your ability to library research. Of course, that begs the question of what errors are in there that we didn't catch. And it does tend to be a bit repetitive in parts; although, this could have been used to good effect if historical threads had been followed a bit more completely.
While I had a few dings on the book, overall I liked it. The fact that I read it end-to-end and enjoyed the last chapter as much as the first is a testament to my general enjoyment of it. It wasn't the best book I read last year, but I'll certainly keep it on my bookshelf. So, back to my original question: does salt merit its own book? Yes, it does, but perhaps in a somewhat shorter form.
139 internautes sur 157 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 A book to read with a grain of salt 24 avril 2003
Par Randyll McDermott - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
I was browsing the new releases section of my local library when I happened to see this book. It had an interesting premise, and looked to be unlike any book I'd read before. I've read histories of people and places, but never of ingredients. I checked it out skeptically, and was pleasantly surprised.
Kurlansky is a very talented writer, he manages to make salt suspenseful. The book's purpose is to examine how salt affected the history of the world. He succeeds in this. However, the history is not really coherent, it doesn't really flow. Salt is essentially a collection of vignettes. These vignettes are grouped in chronological order. The first part of the book deals with salt in China and Rome. Part 2 concerns salt's effect in the Middle Ages and the wars of independence. Part 3 concludes the history by examining salt in modern times.
The main failing of this extensively researched account is Kurlansky attempts to link salt to every major world event. According to him, dissatisfaction with the salt tax led to the American and French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution came to be because of salt, and salted foods allowed the world to be explored. Nonetheless, the history is accessible and a fun to read, even if some of the author's conclusions are a bit off base.
29 internautes sur 30 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 forget the pepper 23 janvier 2002
Par marzipan - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
This was a Christmas gift, and no sooner had I started to read it when I couldn't stop. I discovered, to my entertainment and education, that salt definitely isn't just something you sprinkle on your salad, along with the pepper. (Did you know the word "salad" comes from the Latin for salt?)
Mark Kurlansky's telling of the story of salt, its huge role in world history, is spellbinding. He manages to get the awesome early history of China, with its advanced, non-western technology, told in the context of the search for salt. From China, to Egypt, to Roman conquests, to the Carribbean salt pans, to Ghandi's mission in India, to early industry in upstate New York, salt was a leader. And now I know why gourmet sea salt from Brittany is gray.
Salt is one of those products, along with hunting weapons, and the earliest grains, that has guided human destiny. That's not hyperbole. Read this wonderful book and find out why!
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