Common salt is a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride (NaCl), a chemical compound belonging to the larger class of salts; salt in its natural form as a crystalline mineral is known as rock salt or halite. Salt is present in vast quantities in seawater, where it is the main mineral constituent; the open ocean has about 35 grams (1.2 oz) of solids per litre, a salinity of 3.5%. Salt is essential for animal life, and saltiness is one of the basic human tastes. The tissues of animals contain larger quantities of salt than do plant tissues; therefore the typical diets of nomads who subsist on their flocks and herds require little or no added salt, whereas cereal-based diets require supplementation. Salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous of food seasonings, and salting is an important method of food preservation.
Some of the earliest evidence of salt processing dates to around 8,000 years ago, when people living in Romania were boiling spring water to extract the salts; a salt-works in China has been found which dates to approximately the same period. Salt was prized by the ancient Hebrews, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Hittites and the Egyptians. Salt became an important article of trade and was transported by boat across the Mediterranean Sea, along specially built salt roads, and across the Sahara in camel caravans. The scarcity and universal need for salt has led nations to go to war over salt and use it to raise tax revenues. Salt is also used in religious ceremonies and has other cultural significance.
Salt is processed from salt mines, or by the evaporation of seawater (sea salt) or mineral-rich spring water in shallow pools. Its major industrial products are caustic soda and chlorine, and it is used in many industrial processes and in the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride, plastics, paper pulp and many other products. Of the annual production of around two hundred million tonnes of salt, only about 6% is used for human consumption; other uses include water conditioning processes, de-icing highways and agricultural use. Edible salt is sold in forms such as sea salt and table salt which usually contains an anti-caking agent and may be iodised to prevent iodine deficiency. As well as its use in cooking and at the table, salt is present in many processed foods.
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