Worth our weight in salt.

Food. History. Language. And why it has everything to do with our salary.


salt is used in for seasoning, preservation and also as salary in Roman times1-Minute NomNom

Salt is used in food and cooking in many ways. It can be used to season our dishes, to preserve food, or to make fruits taste sweeter (by suppressing the bitter sensation no less – read all about it in the 1-Minute NomNom “As-salt on sweet pineapples“).

One use that we might not be as familiar with is its use in history. According to Time magazine, in 6th century AD, merchants traded salt for gold, and used “cakes of salt” as money.  One of the busiest routes in Roman times was the one serving the salt route between the “salt pans of Ostia” and Rome (see map above).

salary's etymology can be traced to salt and the Roman goddess SalusMost interestingly:

“A soldier’s pay—consisting in part of salt—came to be known as solarium argentum, from which we derive the word salary. A soldier’s salary was cut if he “was not worth his salt,” a phrase that came into being because the Greeks and Romans often bought slaves with salt.”

Not surprisingly then,
Etymology Online points out that the word salary came from the Latin word “salarium”  which meant “salt-money, soldier’s allowance for the purchase of salt”. 

Salary comes from the word salt which comes from the goddess Salus

Trevi Fountain in Rome – the goddess Salus is the statue on the right

It gets better. Apparently, besides seasoning and preservation, the Romans also knew that salt “made a good antiseptic“. So they named salt after the goddess Salus, who is the “personification of health, prosperity, and the public welfare.” That the goddess Salus is one of the statues found at the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome gives us a glimpse of how important she was to Roman society and culture.

Given the close association of money to salary, to salt, and to a goddess, perhaps it is no wonder that some now worship money like a god(dess) while others like to “put their money where their mouth is“. We are just glad that now, the only time we cut our salt is when we choose a healthier diet. How far we have come!

salt and fries - we can trace the word salary back to the word salt

Feed Me!

What other food related words have interesting origins? Share them with us in the comments below!


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photos: in order – depositphotos/Daxiao_ProductionsPhotosiberseagamessadisavankad



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