Salt from ancient Greek "άλς" (sea) is a mineral essential for animal life, composed primarily of sodium chloride. Salt for human consumption is produced in different forms: unrefined salt (such as sea salt), refined salt (table salt), and iodized salt. It is a crystalline solid, white, pale pink or light grey in color, normally obtained from sea water or rock deposits. Edible rock salts may be slightly greyish in color due to this mineral content.
Sodium and chlorine, the two components of salt, are necessary for the survival of all living creatures, including humans, but they need not be consumed as salt, where they are found together in very concentrated form. Some isolated cultures, such as the Yanomami in South America, have been found to consume little salt. Salt is involved in regulating the water content (fluid balance) of the body. Salt flavor is one of the basic tastes. Salt cravings may be caused by trace mineral deficiencies as well as by a deficiency of sodium chloride itself.
At the dawn of civilization, salt's preservative ability eliminated dependency on the seasonal availability of food, allowed travel over long distances, and was a vital food additive. However, because salt (NaCl) was difficult to obtain, it became a highly valued trade item throughout history. Until the 1900s, salt was one of the prime movers of national economies and wars. Salt was often taxed; research has discovered this practice to have existed as early as the 20th century BC in China. By the Middle Ages, caravans consisting of as many as forty thousand camels traversed four hundred miles of the Sahara bearing salt, sometimes trading it for slaves.
The first registers of salt use were produced around 4000 B.C. in Egypt, and later in Greece and Rome. Salt was very valuable and used to preserve and flavor foods. In Ancient Rome, salt was used as a currency. The Latin word salarium; meaning a payment made in salt, is the root of the word "salary." Unfortunately for those paid with salt, it was easily ruined by rain and other weather conditions. Payments to Roman workers and soldiers were made in salt. Salt was also given to the parents of the groom in marriage until the 8th century.[attribution needed]
From the Phoenicians dates the evidence of harvesting solid salt from the sea. They also exported it to other civilizations. As a result of the increased salt supply from the sea, the value of salt depreciated. The harvest method used was flooding plains of land with seawater, then leaving the plains to dry. After the water dried, the salt which was left was collected and sold.
In the Mali Empire, merchants in 12th century Timbuktu—the gateway to the Sahara Desert and the seat of scholars—valued salt (NaCl) enough to buy it for its weight in gold; this trade led to the legends of the incredibly wealthy city of Timbuktu, and fueled inflation in Europe, which was importing the salt.
There are thirty-five references (verses) to salt in the Bible (King James Version), the most familiar probably being the story of Lot's wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt when she disobeyed the angels and looked back at the wicked city of Sodom (Genesis 19:26). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also referred to his followers as the "salt of the earth". The apostle Paul also encouraged Christians to "let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt" (Colossians 4:6) so that when others enquire about their beliefs, the Christian's answer generates a 'thirst' to know more about Christ. Salt is mandatory in the rite of the Tridentine Mass. Salt is used in the third item (which includes an Exorcism) of the Celtic Consecration (refer Gallican rite) that is employed in the Consecration of a Church. Salt may be added to the water "where it is customary" in the Roman Catholic rite of Holy water. The earliest Biblical mention of salt appears to be in reference to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24-26)When King Abimelech destroyed the city of Shechem, held to have occurred in the thirteenth century BCE., he is said to have "sowed salt on it," this phrase expressing the completeness of its ruin. (Judges 9:45.)
Forms of salt
Different natural salts have different mineralities, giving each one a unique flavor. Fleur de sel, natural sea salt harvested by hand, has a unique flavor varying from region to region.
Some assert that unrefined sea salt is more healthy than refined salts. However, completely raw sea salt is bitter due to magnesium and calcium compounds, and thus is rarely eaten. Other people think that raw sea and rock salts do not contain sufficient iodine salts to prevent iodine deficiency diseases like hypothyroidism.
Refined salt, which is most widely used presently, is mainly sodium chloride. Food grade salt accounts for only a small part of salt production in industrialised countries (3% in Europe) although world-wide, food uses account for 17.5% of salt production. The majority is sold for industrial use. Salt has great commercial value, because it is a necessary ingredient in the manufacturing of many things. A few common examples include: the production of pulp and paper, setting dyes in textiles and fabrics, and the making of soaps and detergents.
The manufacture and use of salt is one of the oldest chemical industries. Salt is also obtained by evaporation of sea water, usually in shallow basins warmed by sunlight; salt so obtained was formerly called bay salt, and is now often called sea salt or solar salt. Today, most refined salt is prepared from rock salt: mineral deposits high in salt. These rock salt deposits were formed by the evaporation of ancient salt lakes. These deposits may be mined conventionally or through the injection of water. Injected water dissolves the salt, and the brine solution can be pumped to the surface where the salt is collected.
After the raw salt is obtained, it is refined to purify it and improve its storage and handling characteristics. Purification usually involves recrystallization. In recrystallization, a brine solution is treated with chemicals that precipitate most impurities (largely magnesium and calcium salts). Multiple stages of evaporation are then used to collect pure sodium chloride crystals, which are kiln-dried.
Since the 1950's it has been common to add a trace of sodium hexacyanoferrate II to the brine, this acts as an anticaking agent by promoting irregular crystals. Other anticaking agents (and potassium iodide, for iodised salt) are generally added after crystallization. These agents are hygroscopic chemicals which absorb humidity, keeping the salt crystals from sticking together. Some anticaking agents used are tricalcium phosphate, calcium or magnesium carbonates, fatty acid salts (acid salts), magnesium oxide, silicon dioxide, calcium silicate, sodium alumino-silicate, and alumino-calcium silicate. Concerns have been raised regarding the possible toxic effects of aluminium in the latter two compounds, however both the European Union and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permit their use. The refined salt is then ready for packing and distribution.
Table salt is refined salt, 99% sodium chloride. It usually contains substances that make it free flowing (anticaking agents) such as sodium silicoaluminate or magnesium carbonate. It is common practice to put a few grains of uncooked rice in salt shakers to absorb extra moisture when anticaking agents are not enough.
Iodized salt (BrE: iodised salt), table salt mixed with a minute amount of sodium iodide, iodate, or sometimes potassium iodide, is used to help reduce the chance of iodine deficiency in humans. Iodine deficiency commonly leads to thyroid gland problems, specifically endemic goiter. Endemic goiter is a disease characterized by a swelling of the thyroid gland, usually resulting in a bulbous protrusion on the neck. While only tiny quantities of iodine are required in a diet to prevent goiter, the United States Food and Drug Administration recommends (21 CFR 101.9 (c)(8)(iv)) 150 microgrammes of iodine per day for both men and women, and there are many places around the world where natural levels of iodine in the soil are low and the iodine is not taken up by vegetables.
Today, iodized salt is more common in the United States, Australia and New Zealand than in Britain. Table salt is also often iodized—a small amount of potassium iodide (in the US) or potassium iodate (in the EU) is added as an important dietary supplement. Table salt is mainly employed in cooking and as a table condiment. Iodized table salt has significantly reduced disorders of iodine deficiency in countries where it is used. Iodine is important to prevent the insufficient production of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism), which can cause goitre, cretinism in children, and myxedema in adults.
In some European countries where fluoridation of drinking water is not practiced, fluorinated table salt is available. In France, 35% of sold table salt contains sodium or potassium fluoride. Another additive, especially important for pregnant women is Folic acid (B vitamin) giving the table salt a yellow color.
In many Asian cultures, table salt is not traditionally used as a condiment.However, condiments such as soy sauce, fish sauce and oyster sauce tend to have a high salt content and fill much the same role as a salt-providing table condiment that table salt serves in western cultures.
Sodium is one of the primary electrolytes in the body. All three electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and calcium) are available in unrefined salt, as are other vital minerals needed for optimal bodily function. Too much or too little salt in the diet can lead to muscle cramps, dizziness, or even an electrolyte disturbance, which can cause severe, even fatal, neurological problems. Drinking too much water, with insufficient salt intake, puts a person at risk of water intoxication. Salt is even sometimes used as a health aid, such as in treatment of dysautonomia.
People's risk for disease due to insufficient or excessive salt intake varies due to biochemical individuality. Some have asserted that while the risks of consuming too much salt are real, the risks have been exaggerated for most people, or that the studies done on the consumption of salt can be interpreted in many different ways. 
Excess salt consumption has been linked to:
- exercise-induced asthma. On the other hand, another source counters, "…we still don't know whether salt contributes to asthma. If there is a link then it's very weak…".
- osteoporosis: One report shows that a high salt diet does reduce bone density in girls.. Yet "While high salt intakes have been associated with detrimental effects on bone health, there are insufficient data to draw firm conclusions." (, p3)
- Gastric cancer (Stomach cancer) is associated with high levels of sodium, "but the evidence does not generally relate to foods typically consumed in the UK." (, p18) However, in Japan, salt consumption is higher.
- hypertension (high blood pressure): "Since 1994, the evidence of an association between dietary salt intakes and blood pressure has increased. The data have been consistent in various study populations and across the age range in adults." ( p3). "The CMO [Chief Medical Officer] of England, in his Annual Report (DH, 2001), highlighted that people with high blood pressure are three times more likely to develop heart disease and stroke, and twice as likely to die from these diseases than those with normal levels."(, p14). Professor Dr. Diederick Grobbee claims that there is no evidence of a causal link between salt intake and mortality or cardiovascular events.. One study found that low urinary sodium is associated with greater risk of myocardial infarction among treated hypertensive men .
- left ventricular hypertrophy (cardiac enlargement): "Evidence suggests that high salt intake causes left ventricular hypertrophy, a strong risk factor for cardiovascular disease, independently of blood pressure effects." ( p3) "…there is accumulating evidence that high salt intake predicts left ventricular hypertrophy." (, p12) Excessive salt (sodium) intake, combined with an inadequate intake of water, can cause hypernatremia. It can exacerbate renal disease.
- edema (BE: oedema): A decrease in salt intake has been suggested to treat edema (fluid retention).
- duodenal ulcers and gastric ulcers
A large scale study by Nancy Cook et al shows that people with high-normal blood pressure who significantly reduced the amount of salt in their diet decreased their chances of developing cardiovascular disease by 25% over the following 10 to 15 years. Their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease decreased by 20%.
This section summarizes the salt intake recommended by the health agencies of various countries. Recommendations tend to be similar. Note that targets for the population as a whole tend to be pragmatic (what is achievable) while advice for an individual is ideal (what is best for health). For example, in the UK target for the population is "eat no more than 6 g a day" but for a person is 4 g.
Intakes can be expressed variously as salt or sodium and in various units.
- 1 g sodium = 1,000 mg sodium = 42 mmol sodium = 2.5 g salt
United Kingdom: In 2003, the UK's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommended that, for a typical adult, the Reference Nutrient Intake is 4 g salt per day (1.6 g or 70 mmol sodium). However, average adult intake is two and a half times the Reference Nutrient Intake for sodium. "Although accurate data are not available for children, conservative estimates indicate that, on a body weight basis, the average salt intake of children is higher than that of adults." SACN aimed for an achievable target reduction in average intake of salt to 6 g per day (2.4 g or 100 mmol sodium) — this is roughly equivalent to a teaspoonful of salt. The SACN recommendations for children are:
- 0–6 months old: less than 1 g/day
- 7–12 months: 1 g/day
- 1–3 years: 2 g/day
- 4–6 years: 3 g/day
- 7–10 years: 5 g/day
- 11–14 years: 6 g/day
SACN states, "The target salt intakes set for adults and children do not represent ideal or optimum consumption levels, but achievable population goals."
Republic of Ireland: The Food Safety Authority of Ireland endorses the UK targets "emphasising that the RDA of 1.6 g sodium (4 g salt) per day should form the basis of advice targeted at individuals as distinct from the population health target of a mean salt intake of 6 g per day."(, p16)
Canada: Health Canada recommends an Adequate Intake (AI) and an Upper Limit (UL) in terms of sodium.
- 0–6 months old: 0.12 g/day (AI)
- 7–12 months: 0.37 g/day (AI)
- 1–3 years: 1 g/day (AI) 1.5 g/day (UL)
- 4–8 years: 1.2/day (AI) 1.9 g/day (UL)
- 9–13 years: 1.5 g/day (AI) 2.2 g/day (UL)
- 14–50 years: 1.5 g/day (AI) 2.3 g/day (UL)
- 51–70 years: 1.3 g/day (AI) 2.3 g/day (UL)
- 70 years and older: 1.2 g/day (AI) 2.3 g/day (UL)
- Adequate Intake (AI) 0.46 – 0.92 g sodium = 1.2 – 2.3g salt
- Upper Limit (UL)) 2.3 g sodium = 5.8 g salt
USA: The Food and Drug Administration itself does not make a recommendation but refers readers to Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. These suggest that US citizens should consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium (= 2.3 g sodium = 5.8 g salt) per day. 
UK: The Food Standards Agency defines the level of salt in foods as follows: "High is more than 1.5g salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium). Low is 0.3g salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium). If the amount of salt per 100g is in between these figures, then that is a medium level of salt." In the UK, foods produced by some supermarkets and manufacturers have ‘traffic light’ colors on the front of the pack: Red (High), Amber (Medium), or Green (Low).
USA: The FDA Food Labeling Guide stipulates whether a food can be labelled as "free", "low", or "reduced/less" in respect of sodium. When other health claims are made about a food (e.g. low in fat, calories, etc.), a disclosure statement is required if the food exceeds 480mg of sodium per 'serving.'
In 2004, Britain's Food Standards Agency started a public health campaign called "Salt - Watch it", which recommends no more than 6g of salt per day; it features a character called Sid the Slug and was criticised by the Salt Manufacturers Association (SMA). The Advertising Standards Authority did not uphold the SMA complaint in its adjudication.. In March 2007, the FSA launched the third phase of their campaign with the slogan "Salt. Is your food full of it?" fronted by comedienne Jenny Eclair.
The Menzies Research Institute in Tasmania, Australia, maintains a website  dedicated to educating people about the potential problems of a salt-laden diet.
Salt intake can be reduced by simply reducing the quantity of salty foods in a diet, without recourse to salt substitutes. Salt substitutes have a taste similar to table salt and contain mostly potassium chloride, which will increase potassium intake. Excess potassium intake can cause hyperkalemia. Various diseases and medications may decrease the body's excretion of potassium, thereby increasing the risk of hyperkalemia. If you have kidney failure, heart failure or diabetes, seek medical advice before using a salt substitute. A manufacturer, LoSalt, has issued an advisory statement that people taking the following prescription drugs should not use a salt substitute: Amiloride, Triamterene, Dytac, Spironolactone (Brand name Aldactone), Eplerenone and Inspra.
Salt is produced by evaporation of seawater or brine from other sources, such as brine wells and salt lakes, and by mining rock salt, called halite. In 2002, total world production was estimated at 210 million metric tonnes, the top five producers being the United States (40.3 million tonnes), China (32.9), Germany (17.7), India (14.5), and Canada (12.3). Note that these figures are not just for table salt but for sodium chloride in general.
- Yanomami Indians in the INTERSALT study, (accessed13 January,2007)
- Bloch, David: Economics of NaCl: Salt made the world go round
- Take a journey to Timbuktu, 13 January 2007 (accessed13 January,2007)
- European Salt Producers' Association http://www.eu-salt.com/index3.htm
- Roskill Information Services http://www.roskill.com/reports/salt
- UK Salt Manufacturers' Association http://www.saltsense.co.uk/aboutsalt-what01.htm
- Nutritional analysis provided with Tesco Table Salt, from Tesco Stores Ltd (UK) states 38.9% sodium by weight which equals 98.9% sodium chloride
- Australia: Better Health Channel (Australia, Victoria) Salt
- Cleveland Clinic Health Information Center Dysautonomia page
- Why Files article Salt and other wounds
- Gary Taubes, "The (Political) Science of Salt", Science, 14 August 1998, Vol. 281. no. 5379, pp. 898 - 907
- Exercise-induced asthma more clearly linked to high-salt diet
- Dr Trisha Macnair "Does eating salt make asthma worse?"
- Everybody Study adds salt to suspected triggers for heartburn
- High salt diet reduces bone density in girls
- Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) Salt and Health (PDF)
- Salt raises 'stomach cancer risk'
- Salt Manufacturers' Association press release
- Michael H. Alderman; Shantha Madhavan; Hillel Cohen; Jean E. Sealey; John H. Laragh Low Urinary Sodium Is Associated With Greater Risk of Myocardial Infarction Among Treated Hypertensive Men Hypertension 1995;25:1144-1152.
- Food Safety Authority of Ireland Salt and Health: Review of the Scientific Evidence and Recommendations for Public Policy in Ireland
- Australia: Better Health Channel (Australia, Victoria) Fluid retention
- BBC High-salt diet link to ulcer risk 22 May 2007
- BBC News Cutting salt 'reduces heart risk' 19 April 2007
- Eating less salt could prevent cardiovascular disease
- Health Canada Dietary Reference Intakes (look for Sodium)
- Auckland District Health Board Public Health Nutrition Advice (PDF)
- Better Health Channel (Australia, Victoria) Salt
- U. S. Food and Drug Administration A Pinch of Controversy Shakes Up Dietary Salt
- Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 "Sodium and Potassium"
- Understanding labels
- Food and Drug Administration A Food Labeling Guide--Appendix A
- Salt Manufacturers Association press release New salt campaign under attack
- Advertising Standards Authority Broadcast Advertising Adjudications: 20 April 2005 (PDF)
- Salt TV ads
- Salt Matters
- LoSalt Advisory Statement (PDF)
- Susan R. Feldman. Sodium chloride. Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published online 2005. doi:10.1002/0471238961.1915040902051820.a01.pub2
- Salt production methods and practices
- Salt Institute
- Cook's Thesaurus: Salt (Summary and descriptions of edible salts)
Salt and health
- Government bodies
Many other government bodies are listed in the References section above.
- Ireland: Food Safety Authority of Ireland Salt and Health
- UK: Food Standards Agency Salt campaign
- UK: Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) Salt and Health (PDF) and Salt Subgroup minutes
- UK: Why 6g? A summary of the scientific evidence for the salt intake target
- Medical authorities
- The Cochrane Collaboration "Effect of longer-term modest salt reduction on blood pressure"
- Menzies Research Institute Salt Matters Web Site
- Charities and campaigns
- British Nutrition Foundation article "Salt in the Diet"
- Consensus Action on Salt and Health (UK charity)
- Action on Salt and Health
- CSPI page Salt: The Forgotten Killer
- Irish Heart Foundation booklet Time to cut down on salt (PDF format)
- BBC article "Salt: friend or foe?"
- BBC medical notes "Salt"
- Guardian article The sceptic
- Ockham's Razor Salt matters - talk by Dr Trevor Beard, Menzies Research Institute (ABC Radio National 4th February 2007)
- Salt industry
- EuSalt Position papers
- LoSalt (salt substitute manufacturer)
- Salt Manufacturers' Association Salt and health
- Salt Institute Sodium and health
- Mark Kurlansky, Salt : A World History (Penguin Books, 2002). ISBN 0802713734.
- Kurlansky, Mark, and S. D. Schindler. The Story of Salt. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2006. ISBN 0399239987 -- a children's book about salt.
- Laszlo, Pierre. Salt: Grain of Life. Arts and traditions of the table. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
- Department of Health, Dietary Reference Values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the UK: Report of the Panel on DRVs of the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food Policy , The Stationery Office.