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Where did salt come from?

Where did salt come from?

Have your grandfather or grandmother ever told you how they traveled for many days just to get salt and carried that heavy load in their ‘dokos’? The tale of salt travel is as salty as the drops of sweat shed while carrying the salt. It’s saltier than the tears shed due to their hardships. Listen to their stories, which serve to enhance the taste of the food we eat today. The rich flavor of our food wasn’t a given. It was the result of our ancestors’ hardships.

Did you know that the prosperity of the rich Karnali or our entire Himalayan region started to decline when China occupied Tibet? There was a huge ‘Bhote noon’ (Tibetan salt) trade cycle going on for centuries across the Nepal-Tibet border. People from the Himalayas and the Khas region used to buy many ingredients from Tibet and sell them to India, and vice versa. And the main ingredient of that trade was Bhote noon.

The salt cycle started to decline when China tightened the border policy to keep Tibet under control. The Chinese government raised taxes on Bhote noon in Tibet and introduced a quota system on salt production. This made it difficult for our Khas and Himali people to cross the border and trade, which had a huge economic impact on our Himalayan region.

Did you know that there are many remote places in Karnali Province where people still walk many miles to get a few packets of salt?

Salt, the humble ingredient found in every kitchen, holds many more stories than its tiny crystals might suggest. It’s not just about enhancing flavor; it’s a journey through history, culture, and personal connection. Here, we’ll explore the fascinating world of salts, from everyday table salt to the exotic Himalayan black salt. I’ll even tell you a heartwarming tale of nostalgia.

Let us start the journey with the most common – table salt. This finely-grained, iodized wonder is the workhorse of kitchens worldwide, adding a savory touch to countless dishes. But the world of salt extends far beyond the little shakers on your table.

Kosher salt, the gentle giant, boasts large, flaky crystals that dissolve easily, making it perfect for seasoning meat and vegetables. Sea salt, harvested from evaporated seawater, comes in various textures and boasts trace minerals that can add subtle complexity to your food.

For a touch of luxury, we have Himalayan pink salt, mined from ancient salt deposits, and the Celtic sea salt, known for its beautiful gray color and unique mineral content. These specialty salts are often used as finishing touches, adding a delicate flavor and visual appeal.

The adventure doesn’t stop there. We have smoked salt, infused with the smoky aroma of wood fire, perfect for adding depth to grilled meats. Black Hawaiian salt, made with activated charcoal, boasts an earthy flavor, while red Hawaiian salt, infused with volcanic clay, adds a stunning red hue and a nutty taste.

Flake salt, with its light and delicate flakes, is a favorite for finishing dishes, while pickling salt, free of additives, is essential for preserving vegetables. Even volcano salt, a black lava salt from Iceland, adds a dramatic touch to your culinary creations.

Now, let’s embark on a more personal journey. Black salt, also known as ‘bire noon’ in Nepal, is more than just a seasoning for me. It’s a portal to my childhood, filled with memories of winter and the arrival of the Bhote Khampa, nomadic traders from the Himalayas.

These hardy people braved the harsh winters to trade their precious Tibetan rock salt for Nepali rice. This centuries-old barter system, a fascinating branch of the Silk Road, brought bustling marketplaces alive, not with silk and spices, but with shimmering salt crystals and golden rice.

The Bhote Khampa weren’t just traders; they were storytellers, bringing tales of the majestic Himalayas and a bygone era. Their black salt, infused with the essence of the mountains, added a depth of flavor to our meals, becoming more than just a seasoning, but a symbol of connection and cultural exchange.

For my mother, buying black salt wasn’t just a transaction; it was a chance to connect with a different way of life and a reminder of the human spirit’s resilience. Though the world has changed, and the Bhote Khampa no longer traverses the mountains, the memories linger.

Every time I use black salt, it’s more than just adding flavor; it's honoring a legacy, a taste of history passed down through generations. It’s a reminder that even the simplest ingredients can hold the most profound stories.

This exploration of salts is just a glimpse into the vast and fascinating world of this seemingly ordinary ingredient. So, the next time you reach for the salt shaker, remember the stories it holds, the cultures it represents, and the personal connections it can evoke.

The author is a UK-based R&D chef