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Salt Mining

A salt mine is a geological area that contains rock salt and/or halite. The mines are worked for salt extraction, which has a variety of uses today, but was originally used as a cooking ingredient due to its scarcity and difficulty of extraction. Salt Mining was very dangerous and difficult up until the industrial revolution, which occurred between 1760 and 1840. This comes at the tail end of the Georgian Era, meaning that up until machine based extraction became possible, salt was a highly desired product and a powerful economic driver. Human extraction of salt, or dry salt mining, had a number of dangers. Salt would be mined from caverns similar to the practice of coal mining. Salt beds are left from seabeds that have since dried up and been buried over tens of thousands of years. Shafts were lowered into the mine, and extraction would happen in a carefully managed process to maintain the structural integrity of the deposit. In removing the deposits, salt micro particles would fill the air and ultimately the lungs of the miners, who were all men at that time. This lead to quick dehydration and sodium overdoses. Later, practices were developed to inject steam or hot water into salt beds, and extract the brine of water and salt that was formed. This brine would either be air dried, or lumber would be used to absorb the water, expediting the process of removing water, in a process known as solution mining. Today, solution mining is used mostly to develop table salt. The product is boiled, dried, and purified, leaving a near 100% pure chemical compound of sodium chloride. Today, iodine and anti-clumping agents are added to to table salt for ease of use.

Historical records indicate the first widespread use of salt in Britain was during the Iron Age. Seawater was the primary source of salt, which was boiled for sanitation purposes. During the colonization of India, British law declared that only they were allowed to profit from salt production on the coast of India.

Today, the majority of the world’s salt production comes from China and the United States. In the Georgian Period however, salt was used widely enough to become incorporated in many recipes, of which there are still record today. Oysters for example were enjoyed by all classes of society, and one recipe calls for salt as a seasoning. This also demonstrates how food prices have changed since the Georgian period, as today shellfish in many areas is considered a luxury item, while salt is ubiquitous. Salt also had important uses for food preservation leading to advancements in the health and welfare of populations. The prevalence of salt, and its wide variety of uses, can be seen throughout history, much as it is used today.

Works Cited
Freeman, Shanna. “How Salt Works.” HowStuffWorks. HowStuffWorks.com, 27 Nov. 2007. Web. 18 July 2014. .
Guttman, Amy. “Three Ways Cooking Has Changed Over The Last 300 Years.” NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 18 July 2014. .
“Industrial Revolution.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 July 2014. Web. 17 July 2014. .
“Salt mining.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 July 2014. Web. 18 July 2014. .
“Salt mining: mining part.” Salt mining: mining part. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 July 2014. .

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4 thoughts on “Salt Mining

  1. It’s crazy that salt played such a role in the establishment of the civilization we see today. As a geologist it’s interesting to learn about how salt is extracted from the ground and the dangers that come along with it. As you get deeper into the Earth the hotter it gets, a lot of the time other factors play in as well like the possibility of sodium over doses. I know I wouldn’t want to go down into a hole that is hundreds of feet down without the proper protection sounds insane. I guess that’s why they decided to use slaves to extract the mineral and why they were seen as disposable. It’s a neat idea that they started to use steam to bring the salt into a solution then extract the salt from that instead of putting people’s life in danger. Salt seems like a weird thing to risk one’s life for but then I wonder where we would be had salt mining not come about during this time.

    • It is certainly interesting to think about the spices that carried such worth before industrial trade was available to all classes of society. Its almost crazy to think about how globalization has created a “flat world” for trade in the modern era, in which any commodity can be exported to a foreign land. I think this is reflective upon how food relates to class. Those with wealth are capable of purchasing spices and seasonings from far off lands, whether that be through trade or colonization. An interesting follow up would be to look at the economic impact of purely culinary trade; that is, colonization and trade that was entirely due to food ingredients.

  2. I find it amazing that we mine for so many things from salt to diamonds to oil to minerals. It is such a dangerous thing to do, and I am surprised that we have not found a safer or easier solution yet. I suppose we stick to the tried and true methods of when you find something that works you keep with it! I know that I would not want to go down into a hole in the earth in complete darkness with gases and danger lurking all around me. There is a reason miners and oil decks get paid very good money to do the life-threatening jobs they do. I know I could never do it, but you have to wonder what life would be without it. Or how they even stumbled upon the thought originally of trying to mine for things.

  3. The relativity of salt is important to the preservation of food historically. Its a good topic of our taste vs taste class. The significance of the its impact is noted in your writing yet what perception are you left with in regard to salt in differentiating amongst class? Do you notice a variation?

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