Are you salty?

Are you salty?

Last year, we read this Reuters article about smart chopsticks.

The chopsticks have been developed by Japanese researchers. They use electrical stimulation (and a wristband containing a tiny computer) to enhance the saltiness of foods – by transmitting sodium ions from food, through the chopsticks, to the mouth.

The salty taste of any food eaten with these chopsticks is enhanced 1.5X, allowing the user to enjoy salty food without actually eating so much salt.

It’s pretty ingenious, and it got us thinking – what other strange things have human beings done to get more salt on our taste buds?

We’ve been writing our story with salt for thousands of years

Humans have been harvesting salt for thousands of years. The earliest known salt harvesting is thought to have happened at Lake Yuncheng, in the Chinese province of Shanxi – about 8,000 years ago.

It’s thought that during the Neolithic period, salt was harvested in northern China from underground brine deposits – gathered and used to supplement local diets.

Around 4,000 years ago a popular use for salt appears in the Xia Dynasty records, where details of salting fish in order to preserve it were written down. And archeologists have found salted fish and birds preserved in ancient Egyptian tombs – sealed and preserved for over 4,000 years.

You’ve probably heard of Himalayan rock salt (and perhaps you have a nicely packaged tub of it in your kitchen cupboard). Rock salt was created in Asia when ancient inland seas and saltwater lakes evaporated, leaving concentrated beds of sodium chloride in their wake.

It’s likely that rock salt has been used by early cultures living around the Himalayan mountains for many years – but it was Alexander the Great who was widely credited with discovering it, and it was Indian Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar (1542-1605) who first mined Himalayan rock salt to reap the benefits of its rich mineral content.

We harvest salt from…

As our relationship with salt developed, we began to discover it in all kinds of places. And so we had to figure out a wide range of methods to make salt palatable, and satisfy our ever-intensifying cravings.

Here are just some of the ways our species harvests salt:

  • Solar evaporation ponds. They’re shallow basins designed to extract salt from water – be it seawater, salty lakes, or mineral-rich springs. The basins rely on natural evaporation to produce salt crystals which are then harvested by raking.
  • Brine springs. They were once a common source of salt for native populations in the US, who would collect the brine and then evaporate the water to gather the salt.
  • Rock deposits. We’ve mentioned rock salt already – but the ways we mine it have become more advanced over time. Rock salt can be mined directly from evaporated sea and lake beds, or harvested by pumping a solvent into the deposit. This forms a brine which is pumped to the surface, before being evaporated.

Did you know: You can harvest salt at home

OK, so we’ve become a little obsessed with salt this week, and we might have collected a bucket of sea water to try and harvest the salt ourselves.

If you boil salt water until 90% of the water has evaporated, you’ll find chunky flakes of salt waiting for you to store and use.

Let us know if you try it. And if you don’t…well, that’s OK too.

But too much salt isn’t a good thing

We all love salt. It makes life (and food) better. But according to a study published in The American Journal of Medicine, the first scientific evidence that suggested a high salt intake could cause high blood pressure was published in the 1900s.

From then on, our understanding of the relationship between salt and health has been growing, flake by flake.

We now know that the human body requires sodium to conduct nerve impulses, enable muscles to contract and relax, and to maintain the balance of water and minerals in our bodies. But we only need about 500 mg each day.

The average American, for contrast, consumes about 3,400 mg of sodium per day according to the FDA.

And too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke – as well as causing calcium losses which may affect bone health.

Enter: Smart chopsticks (and other inventions)

With food cultures around the world deeply entrenched in heavy salt consumption, food tech is now offering innovative solutions for consumers to keep enjoying the taste of salt without the risks.

Let’s be honest: smart chopsticks sound a bit niche. But the idea to create ways for salty tastes to be enjoyed alongside good is absolutely not niche at all – it’s relevant to everyone.
Discover cutting edge food tech at InFlavour 2023. Register now.

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