What is salt? Primarily salt consists mostly of the chemical compound sodium chloride. In its natural crystalline form it’s known as rock salt or halite. Most commonly it can be found in seawater. In general the ocean has around 35g of salt-solids per litre, which is often expressed as a salinity of 3.5%. In a more general sense salt can then also be defined as one of the basic salt human tastes, also known as ‘saltiness’. Throughout human history there is evidence of salt-use, not only in terms of seasoning but also as a method of food preservation.
Dear Sean, I hope you’re well. My name’s Tom, I’m a writer and editor based in Edinburgh. I wanted to get in touch about a possible writing commission. I’m working with Art Walk Projects in Portobello on SALT, a new one-year programme that includes four process-led artist residencies and outdoor public art commissions connecting Edinburgh’s coastal ecologies with the global climate crisis. We’re working on an editorial partnership with MAP which will involve commissioning four writers to respond to each of the four artists in a slow and sustained way over the coming months.
These texts will be published online at mapmagazine.co.uk and will also form the basis of a printed SALT publication to be completed in March 2023. I wanted to ask if you would be interested in one of these writing commissions? I loved your Home Cooking piece on MAP last year and we were thinking you might be interested in writing in response to the work of Mahala Le May. Mahala will be tracing the importance of salt as an ingredient for cooking and preserving food, engaging with different methods of salt production across Scotland. Responding to Portobello’s own saltpans, she is working towards a series of food events, talks and workshops that look at how we perceive and communicate taste. The exact nature of the text and the writing process is very open. We’re interested in exploring slow, responsive ways of working, emphasising the durational aspect of the residencies.
‘tomatoes at lunch time with a line of salt on top’ ‘try it and see’ ‘the texture’ ‘ancient sea beds become part of the earths crust’ ‘how do you get it out then’ ‘salt mines in cheshire’ ‘salt museum’ ‘combination’ ‘msg is salt’ ‘tofu salt’ ‘dead sea’ ‘pressurised process to concentrate brine’ ‘radiation tower’ ‘nuances in flavour’ ‘polytunnels solar evaporation’ ‘differences to do with location and process’ ‘drip sea water through blackthorn branches’ ‘eastern european air purification methods’ ‘salt rooms’ ‘sit in a room and feel better’ ‘walking by the sea is a seen as healthy traditionally’ ‘after an hour with the raging sea’ ‘wind evaporation’ ‘see try feel’ ‘the purest form of sodium chloride’ ‘it’s too salty’ ‘250g of salt in the body’ ‘the difference between aroma and scent’ ‘aftertaste’ ‘so often we eat just to sustain ourselves’ ‘flavours from one single ingredient’ ‘you need that crunch’ ‘interesting history’ ‘everything tastes like salt’ ‘what would seaweed be good for” “super-processed’ ‘if your body is functional it should already be removing salt’ “genetic salt processing’ ‘salt tolerance ‘addiction’ ‘salt has the ability the raise the bar’ “salt before refrigeration’ ‘we didn’t get salt trucks in my area’ ‘control during the american civil war’ ‘preservation’ ‘osmosis’ ‘brine stops aging’ ‘slow it down’ ‘convenience’ ‘more bland’ ‘heritage varieties’ ‘sometimes it feels overwhelming’ ‘what we might be losing’ ‘fermentation’ ‘eggy smell’ ‘I can’t tell the difference’ ‘privilege’ ‘pumped into crystallisation ponds’.
One of my first memorable interactions with salt came when I was eight. Being a huge fan of soy sauce, be it dark or light, Chinese, Japanese or even those weird fish-shaped sachets you often get in takeaway meal-deal packs of so-called ‘sushi’ in British supermarkets, at that age it felt unimaginable to me that there could be any food at all that wouldn’t be improved by a dash of the black stuff. As such, one day I was helping to clear the table away after a family meal and there was a bottle of dark soy sauce just sitting there on the table tempting me. I picked it up, popped open the lid and raised the whole thing to my nose, inhaling deeply the salty fermented concoction within. Then I looked around myself, checking that nobody else was looking. I moved the bottle down to my lips and lifted the bottle upwards. One big swig of soy sauce. What harm could it do? Almost immediately I realised my mistake as my face contorted into positions and expressions I hadn’t thought possible. My entire body shuddered. I ran to the bathroom and attempted to wash my mouth out with water from the tap. I couldn’t stop shaking. Eventually I managed to cleanse my taste buds from the stinging sensation of that salt. I went downstairs again and was told off by my family for deserting my cleaning-up post. But the scolding was worth it to keep my stupidity a secret. I apologised and got on with my job, making sure that the lid on the soy sauce bottle was firmly sealed tight. To this day I’ve tried to be as careful as possible when it comes to table soy sauce, treating the saltiness it adds as a precious gift rather than something to just be drank willy-nilly. And despite this experience I still love all the flavours that come with soy sauce. One day I’d still love to ferment and make my own. And occasionally, after a big family meal when I’m cleaning up, there will still be a moment when my eyes are drawn to the bottle of shadow black liquid, and the compulsion momentarily takes my mind. But I won’t let it win.
I ♥ SALT on sweet stuff ‘Salt Seasons’ Salt of the Earth. Enriches foods & faith—Seasoned Christians we enrich each other. Some salt tastes Artificial. Sorely missed a pinch of salt on my soft-boiled egg at lunchtime. There is a salt mine in Poland that extracts Himalayan salt → Wieliczka Salt Mine Agree on chips + Baked potatoes. Over shoulder Ritual. I like SALT TOO MUCH RITUAL: IF YOU ARE USING SALT AND YOU HAVE SOME LEFT, DON’T WASH IT AWAY FROM YOUR FINGERS BUT THROW IT OVER YOUR SHOULDER I ♥ chips & salt Thank you for doing this, I felt like the only person who is obssessed with SALT! I ♥ SALT! Today I wondered… is salt a finite resource? Is it produced sustainably? Will we one day run out of our beloved salt?? My Granny loves salt + is very paranoid that someone will tell her off and take it away from her. Whenever there is not salt on the table she is very suspicious. She is also Gluten free. I think she is marvelous and I love her dearly LOVE SALT OVER FRIES ♥ PURE & SIMPLE :) Swishing my mouth out with (sea) salt water to manage tongue & gum ulcers. Magic potions!
I love salt on poached eggs, on focaccia, on new potatoes, on ripe yellow tomatoes. I like how it brings out the best flavours of foods. How I crave it when I’m hungry. How you can taste the difference in good salt :) Rastafarians in the Caribbean don’t eat salt on food if they are strict and levels of an Ital diet SALT, I ♥ SALT! ON FISH + CHIPS! I like salt on eggs + potatoes. S. A. L. T. is an acronym. For Speech and Language Therapist. I love the feeling of salt in my hair after swimming in the sea—it makes it feel different and a special kind of curly and I hate washing it out! My skin stings when I swim in the sea My boyfriend introduced me to Maldon Salt. He’s a chef and gave me ice cream, olive oil + Maldon Salt. I always think my grandmother uses too much salt on her food but she’s 99 so what do I know!? I love hula hoops – nice and salty! SALT—THE BIGGER, THE BETTER! (ALSO—YAY FOR PEPPER) chips are good with salt! SALT! Salt is a-okay SALT (ah ah) SAVIOUR OF THE UNIVERSE! Mahala’s salted ice cream was amazing ♥
At times of difficulty in my personal life I always find myself turning to research. This project happened to coincide with a difficult time in my life, mainly connected to grief. As such, the opportunity to research salt for this project felt like a real lifeline. I began by looking up Prestonpans, a village originally built from fishing. I learned that all this changed when monks from the Abbey of Newbattle arrived in the area in 1198. Noticing the abundance of local coal as well as the availability of timber, peat and, of course, the sea, the monks petitioned the crown for rights to dig coals to use for salt-panning. They were granted this in 1209 and this shifted the area away from fishing and instead towards the manufacturing of salt. This whole history was fascinating to me, and yet it also somehow wasn’t enough. A friend I talked to informed me about the story of Lot’s wife in the Bible, who was turned into a pillar of salt in retaliation for disobeying an order from God to not ‘look back’ towards the destruction of the city of Sodom. I was immediately drawn in by the themes of punishment and guilt, as well as the question of how salt fitted in with any and all of it. One website hypothesised that the use of salt was related to the Dead Sea, a body of water eight times more salty than the average ocean. The Dead Sea, the website claimed, would’ve been located close to Sodom and therefore salt would’ve been a mineral with a lot of particular local history and culture. However, the site also went on to link the story of Lot’s wife with an older story, that of Orpheus and Eurydice in Greek mythology. During that story Orpheus was punished for looking back towards the recently deceased Eurydice during an attempt to revive her from the dead. Around this time I learned that my grandfather’s tombstone had fallen in the cemetery during a storm. So I pressed on with my research, this time focussing on other uses of salt in language. I searched for proverbs from around the world which used salt as a way to teach, advise or soothe, and I found myself particularly enamoured with ‘Eternity makes room for a salty cucumber’ (supposedly of Russian origin) as well as ‘Don’t slaughter more pigs than you can salt’ (from French). However the most surprising phrase I discovered was 我吃盐多过你吃米, literally ‘I have eaten more salt than you have eaten rice’ in Chinese. It made me think of my grandfather, who ate rice almost every night of his close-to-a-hundred years of life. I imagined how many grains might have been in each bowl he ate, as well as how many bowls he might have eaten each night. During his youth it would’ve been very little I’m sure, but once he arrived in the UK would he have made up for that childhood of hunger by eating more here? In any case, trying to imagine a person and/or being who had eaten more salt than he had rice felt impossible. But then, what about me? How many grains of rice had I consumed during my life? And how many thousands of people out there had eaten more salt than I had rice. 我吃盐多过你吃米 became a phrase I would repeat in my head as I…
Sean Wai Keung is a Glasgow based food poet and writer whose work often explores concepts of mixed-ness, identity and migration. His first full length poetry collection, ‘sikfan glaschu’, was published by Verve Poetry Press in April 2021 and was shortlisted for the 2022 Kavya Prize.
This text is one of a series of new writing commissions in response to SALT, Art Walk Projects’ ongoing season of artist residencies. It also forms part of a new editorial partnership between Art Walk Projects and MAP, working together to support contemporary art writing through experimental approaches to commissioning and publishing. SALT culminates in the publication of a book in spring 2023.