Posted by Bill Hettig on 25th Nov 2010

Salt Matters

Salt of the Earth

Essay by Bill Hettig

There are two substances that comprise the core of life on this planet. All life arises and is sustained by them. Without either there would be no life on Earth. Salt and water are the same two substances needed to ferment pickles. From the simplest to the most complex life forms, these are the sustainers of life.

In a Bible passage Lot's wife was turned to salt when she turned and looked at the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. Actually, she turned back into salt. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust to a scientist translates into "minerals to minerals and salt to salt." That's what we are, mostly salt and water.

“God sent down four blessings from the sky,” the Prophet Muhammad said. “Iron, fire, water, and salt.” In brine pickling, also known as lacto-fermentation, water is mixed with salt to bring forth life; primal life.

Human blood plasma and lymph and most of our internal fluids are remarkably similar to ocean waters. We can be revived with a saline solution should we lose a lot of blood.

To understand how salt and water in the presence of vegetables makes pickles is complex and deeply fascinating. Minerals act like a battery charge when in the presence of water. Technically, there are ions and cations (plus + and minus - charged molecules) that provide the juice to propel fermentation. When a pickling fermentor is charged with salt, water, and then vegetables are added; a spontaneous primal dance begins. The concentration of mineral ions in the brine is greater than in the liquid within plant cells, which causes the cellular plant fluid to be drawn out. This liquid contains complex carbohydrates. Lactic acid bacteria, which live mutually on these vegetables, are quick to consume these carbs and begin to proliferate in colonies by the billions.

The minerals in sea salt (over 70 different minerals in unrefined ocean borne sea salt) also provide ionically charged minerals by which the bacteria can proceed to further metabolize the plant carbs 

Bacteria have no digestive organs, instead they produce enzymes that spill out from their bodies and break up these carbs where they can be reabsorbed by the bacteria. In turn, these enzymes act like catalysts in the presence of minerals and further create complex nutrients from this rich broth. They literally turn salt or minerals into food.

Not all the sea salt is converted, nor are all the carbohydrates converted. But there is a right amount of salt to water that produces this primal food. In addition, the vitamins in the vegetables become more bioavailable to us—we are making a multi-vitamin-mineral-enzyme-probiotic food—from just salt, water, and common vegetables. The salt that remains, for those who are salt sensitive, does not need to be consumed. What little salt that is in the pickled food is the kind of salt that we want in our bodies. Some sport teams are taking to drinking actual pickle brine, instead of factory made "electrolytic drinks or sport drinks," because it is not only delicious, but it replaces the minerals lost due to respiration and sweating. Not only is salt not a bad food, the double negative is for emphasis, salt is a good food. I mean unrefined, sea salt—rich in macro and micro minerals.

Refined table salt (NaCl) refined to 99.99 percent purity is not a food at all, but a food grade industrial chemical. The body can digest it, but not without health consequences. This is the substance that lends all salt a bad name. Unrefined sea salt provides additional minerals that the human body can assimilate through the action of our own gut bacteria (in the trillions of population), the same way it is performed in lacto-fermentation; they create enzymes with these mineral complexes, which in turn provides our cells with probiotic nourishment. Those peoples that eat live-cultured foods—like brine pickles—on a regular basis are the long-lived peoples of the Earth.

There are some who try to pickle without using salt, which can have unpredictable results. It is like composting, any and all microbes can evolve and prosper. Instead of fermentation, you may get rotting. There are other means to pickling using other ferment mediums, like whey in dairy, or vinegar, or specialized probiotic cultures. If there is a salt intolerance, you may find these methods satisfactory. Here is a simple graph that illustrates a great discovery far back in time:

The Chinese discovered over two millennium ago, that about a 5 percent brine solution brings out beneficial lactic acid bacteria and once they become established, create an environment unique and hostile to other microbes. They even describe the optimum temperature, 71 to 64 F. (22 to 18 C.). The Chinese spread the recipe for salted cabbage throughout the Old World and as culture travels, it came to the West. Brine pickling is again becoming a populist hobby and is a welcome back to an incredible edible food.

When you eat a mouth-watering, sour pickle, your whole body is telling you that this is a good thing. You are the salt of the earth.

"You are the salt of the earth" - Jesus, Sermon on the Mount
Muhammad quote from the Quran