Chapter 13.12: The Salt of the land and the sea

Introduction to Bacon & the Art of Living

The story of bacon is set in the late 1800s and early 1900s when most of the important developments in bacon took place. The plotline takes place in the 2000s with each character referring to a real person and actual events. The theme is a kind of “steampunk” where modern mannerisms, speech, clothes and practices are superimposed on a historical setting.  Modern people interact with old historical figures with all the historical and cultural bias that goes with this.

narrative – the history of bacon

The Salt of Land and the Sea

December 1892

Dear Tristan and Lauren,

The voyage is still long and there is ample time to further develop thoughts on one of the most supreme studies within the broad subject of bacon, namely the epic story of salt. Minette reminded me this morning over breakfast that David de Villiers Graaff also left Cape Town in the mid-1880s for a long trip to Great Britain and America to learn more about the meat trade. It was the talk of the town! His meat company, Combrink & Co was even in those years the biggest butchery in town with an abattoir at the top of Hanover Street, in District Six and retail butcheries throughout the city. (Simons, PB, 2000: 22, 24) I imagine that his motivation for his trip to England and the US was the same as it is for Oscar, myself and the Woodys team. Seek out new developments that will give us the edge over competitors.

There is for us the added element that we must still learn the butcher’s trade. Something that David knew from age 11. I don’t see this as a drawback because it affords us the opportunity to learn from many mentors where David had only Uncle Jakobus Combrink to teach him. Even though Jakobus was a most formidable man, also a mentor to myself, especially during my childhood years, I have come to greatly value the insights of a plurality of mentors. All shape our lives in slightly different ways. One of the opportunities I have is to delve into the chemistry of curing and what better place to pause than on the subject of salt. Last week we touched on sodium chloride a bit but we spend a lot of time on developing the nature of salt generally. It is time to continue out focus narrowly on sodium chloride. 


We have it every day, yet, I never understood it! This ordinary substance morphed, right in front of my eyes into the supreme ingredient. It is the food of life! The substance that contains the fullness of the earth. The element of which we live and breathe and have our being! There is so much to teach you about salt and its rich history.

Researchers miss some of its features because they have a narrow focus on sodium chloride as salt. Of course, this is not warranted because this is not how salt occurs in nature. Salt exists as a combination of an acid and a base in many forms. Some of the most famous salts from antiquity are sodium chloride, potassium, calcium or sodium nitrate, ammonium chloride, magnesium sulfate and sodium bicarbonate. It also occurs in combination with a wide variety of minerals and other chemical elements.

Unravelling the different salts and the ability to separate them is the story of the development of modern chemistry and modern technology itself. The technical underpinnings for a culture to advance in terms of glassworks, and different metals such as iron depended on their understanding of different salts and how it’s separated and refined. More than that, it is an understanding of salt that ushered in the age of gunpowder and brought with it the enormous benefit in terms of a nations military capability. Not just were advances in technology related to salt the key to a nations military power, but it also became the basis of modern agriculture in the various nitrate salts, ammonium, and ammonia. Understanding its value reach back to the start of animal husbandry without it, this development would not have succeeded. It is therefore not an overstatement to say that no culture could ever achieve full independence or mastery over its own future without a better understanding of salt. Without it, there would have remained insurmountable obstacles in its ability to manipulate the forces of nature for the common good and for its own independence.

I decided to give you a flavour of the importance of salt around the world and since we have already looked at saltpetre and sal ammoniac in great detail, I thought to restrict this, for the most part, to sodium chloride. The first most general observation we can make is that sodium chloride comes from the earth and the sea.


The salt works in the medieval French town of Guérande employed around 900 workers just a few years ago in the mid-1800s (Bitterman, M, 2010: 24) and it has been in operation for hundreds of years. Salt was produced along the coastlines of India, and Africa, in Mexico along the Yucatan Peninsula’s salt lagoons, and along the coast of Central America for centuries. (Bitterman, M, 2010: 18 – 23) In China and North America, everywhere salt was produced from water and rock salt deposits, remnants of dried salt lakes, springs and the receding sea.

Salt production in China

During the imperial era of China between the third century B.C.E. to the early twentieth century A.D., we find that salt and iron monopolies in China often provided the bulk of the state revenue. “Historical accounts even suggest that inland salt sources may have played an important role in the unification of China by Qin in 221 B.C.E.. (Flad, et al.; 2005)

Flad, et al. (2005) demonstrated, using the latest research technology, that “salt production was the most significant activity at Zhongba during the first millennium B.C. E.” (Flad, et al.; 2005) Zhongba is located in the Zhong Xian County, Chongqing Municipality, approximately 200 km down-river along the Yangzi from Chongqing City in central China.

They furthermore conclude that “the homogeneity of the ceramic assemblage during Phases I and II suggests that salt production may already have been significant in this area throughout the second millennium B.C. The Zhongba data represent the oldest confirmed example of pottery-based salt production yet found in China. The first millennium B.C. dates alone confirm that salt production was established long before the Qin expansion into Sichuan in 316 B.C.” (Flad, et al.; 2005)

“In southern China, salt from Zhongba was a vital component in the complex process of state formation. For example, the specialized production of surpluses of salt, and possibly salted products, and the trade of these commodities to regions outside the Three Gorges (three adjacent gorges along the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, in the hinterland of the People’s Republic of China) stimulated contacts between the upper and middle reaches of the Yangzi River. As coastal and inland lake-salt sources provided this crucial resource to emerging states in the Central Plains and Eastern China during their formative periods in the late second and early first millennium B.C., so, too, did the salt sources in the Sichuan Basin provide this dietary supplement, preserving agent, and industrial component to the emerging polities in the south. Although the Three Gorges remained a relatively peripheral area into the first millennium B.C., the establishment of trade networks based in large part on the exchange of surplus salt brought some elite practices into the region and stimulated the emergence of social differentiation in the area as elites in nearby polities such as Chu engaged in gift-giving and related practices in attempts to create ever-larger networks of political influence. At the same time, salt from the Three Gorges facilitated the development of more complex economic systems in these same nearby polities by providing a resource that was unavailable elsewhere in the middle reaches of the Yangzi River drainage. Eventually, salt became crucial to the provisioning of armies by expansive states such as Qin and Chu, polities that controlled areas adjacent to the Three Gorges region, and the existing networks of salt exchange became catalysts to the incorporation of this area into a unified Chinese empire.” (Flad, et al.; 2005)

So, if we push the history of large-scale salt production in China back to the second millennium B.C.E. and we recognise the key importance of its trade in the region into the 20th century A.D., a picture emerges whereby salt was traded very likely into Polynesia, probably from some time after the 2nd millennium B.C.E., but definitely in the time of the Christian Era.

Salt production in Fiji

Solar-evaporation salt-works has been located on the Sigatoka Sand Dunes on the island of Viti Levu. Fiji. Here seawater was used “on large flanged clay dishes. This short-lived industry of the seventh century AD disappeared beneath the dunes, but its documented nineteenth- and twentieth-century successors offer it many useful analogies: the salt, now extracted by boiling brine, was supplied to inland communities upriver, where it functioned as a prime commodity for prestige and trade and an agent of social change.” (Salt Production at a Post-Lapita Village reporting on Burley, D. V.; 2011)

“The solar production site is dated to between 2100-900 years ago (BP), with cultural characteristics thought to have been influenced by contact with Vanuatu and New Caledonia.” (Salt Production at a Post-Lapita Village reporting on Burley, D. V.; 2011)

This is very significant since it utilizes seawater to produce salt. Williams, T. (1858) reports on salt from inland sources in Fiji. I assume these were very old sites. He also mentions salt regularly as items of trade which leads me to speculate that salt was part of Fijian society for a long time by 1858 when he wrote. Salt was, without doubt, part and parcel of Fijian culture by the time New Zealand was colonised by Polynesians.

Use of salt on Samoa

In Samoa, my attention is drawn, not to salt production but to an ancient reference to salt from one of their legends. In a variety of the legend of Sina and the eel, Sina’s mother went down to the sea to draw saltwater for cooking. This is, in my opinion, probably one of the oldest forms of the use of salt and one that I am sure must have been known by all coastal dwellers. From such natural liquid brines, I suspect, salt as a condiment and salt for preservation developed. (Andersen, J. C.; 1928: 251)

There is an interesting correlation from the island of Madagascar, given to us by Campbell in his 1822 “Campbell’s Travels.” He writes about the local people of Madagascar that salt was almost unknown to them. He says that by the coast, people add a little bit of seawater to the meat they cooked in pots and in the interior, they added the leaves of a tree called the “salt tree.” (Campbell, 1822). This is a concrete historical president of what is eluded to in the myth. The second part of Campbell’s observation speaks about plants containing high salt percentages. It leads us into salt production in New Guinea. It is this technology which was pervasive in southern Africa which I regularly encountered on my trips to the interior.

Salt in New Guinea

One of the areas in Polynesia with the richest history of salt is undoubtedly New Guinea. A method used is burning salted plants and collecting the salt grains from the ashes and charcoal. Here, in “Papua (western part of New Guinea, Indonesia), the Western Dani conduct expeditions and live in temporary habitations built near (salt) springs, where they would work to produce large and hard salt cakes. After an agreement with the landowners (the Moni), who will furnish the necessary food against shells, fineries, pigs or axes, men will look in the forest for necessary raw material: young stems of porous edible plants (Elastostema macrophylla Brogn from Urticaceae family) and trunks of peculiar trees which produce scant ashes and large charcoal after burning. After cleaning the spring pool, and reinforce the dam to prevent the inflow of freshwater from the nearby river, plants are soaked for more than a day and a night. While the plants are soaking in salty water, men go and collect vegetal material (leaves, bark, and rattan) to pack the salt, and clean the flat terrace in front of the houses, in order to install the woodpile where salted plant will be burnt.

Plants are taken out of the pool, and put together near the woodpile during the following night, after the night rains. The slow and controlled combustion of the plants lasts for seven hours. The flames are blown-out with brine. In the early morning, during long hours, from amongst the ashes and charcoal, men will carefully sort out the little salt concentrations in the shape of the hollows of the plants. Collected in a great wooden plate, these concentrations are piled and riddled with a portage net, and the charcoal rejected down the terrace.

The salt and ashes are powder are placed on long pandanus leaves in a rectangular frame limited with thin little boards held vertically with little pegs. Mixed with brine, the paste is compressed and packed down in the mould before the leaves are folded. The salt cakes will be carefully dripped and dried during the more than a week above the fireplace until it becomes a hard and compact “stone salt”, resistant to dampness and long-distance transport.

The obtained salt is a light-gray product, rich in sodium chloride and having very few impurities. New Guinea had a sophisticated form of salt extraction.

Salt in Vanuatu

Vanuatu is a South Pacific Ocean nation made up of roughly 80 islands. “Archaeological evidence supports the theory that people speaking Austronesian languages first came to the islands about 3,300 years ago”. (Bedford, et al, 2008) “Pottery fragments have been found dating to 1300–1100 BC.” Here, the Sago Palm (Metroxylon) has been used as a source of salt from antiquity.

Jean-Michel Dupuyoo (2007) writes that “Sago palms of the genus Metroxylon, is a potential source of salt; or more accurately, vegetable salt. Certain parts of the plant, mainly leaves and petioles, produce ashes rich in salt, which is separated from the ash with water. This saline solution is then used both for seasoning food and the preparation of sauces. Some traditional societies in the center of Espiritu Santo still use these ashes.” “Some other species, such as banana trees (Musa spp.) and tree ferns (Cyathea spp.) are also used in the extraction of vegetable salt.” (Dupuyoo, 2007)

Dupuyoo then makes a startling revelation. He writes, “according to my correspondents, this practice was at one time their only method of obtaining salt, as access to the sea was often forbidden in times of local warfare.” (Dupuyoo, 2007) This correlates to the practice eluded to the Samoan legend of Sina of boiling food in seawater to obtain the salt. It is something I have long suspected as the first addition of salt to food and the origins of discovering its preserving power as meat was often stored in water in ancient times as one of the earliest forms of preservation.

This raises an interesting observation. From my studies of the diets of ancient people from southern Africa, I discovered that a vegetarian diet from the vegetation in this region will not supply you with the necessary daily sodium requirement. This, however, only applies to certain plants, nuts, berries, and fruits. Some of them are high in sodium and they are endemic to certain places in the world where it will then be possible to maintain an adequate sodium intake without the consumption of any meat or milk.

Healthline reports that “we should aim for less than 1500 mg of sodium per day, and definitely not more than 2300 mg. Keep in mind that salt contains both sodium and chloride. Only 40% of the weight of salt consists of sodium, so you can actually eat 2.5 times more salt than sodium. 1500 mg of sodium amounts to 0.75 teaspoons or 3.75 grams of salt per day, while 2300 mg amounts to one teaspoon or 6 grams of salt per day.”

“According to the experts, a mammy apple contains the most sodium per serving. One of these large round tropical fruits contains 127 milligrams of sodium.” (U.S. Department of Agriculture) If we consume 11 of these apples, per day, we will take sufficient sodium in. “Guavas and passion fruit are the only other fruits in the raw form that contain 50 milligrams of sodium or more per serving.” This means we have to eat at least 30 per day to get enough sodium.

One of the leading anthropologists on this region is undoubtedly Joël Bonnemaison whose work stretch from 1960 until his untimely death in 1997. In his work, he covered the archipelago and regional groupings and identities in Maewo, Ambae and, Pentecost in the north, in central Vanuatu, and especially in his classic study of Tanna society. He lists salt and fish as two of the commodities traded between coastal and inland communities which existed pre-European contact. (Haberkorn, G., 1992, quoting Bonnemaison)

Salt was undoubtedly part of popular culture in Vanuatu presumably long before the August 1774 contact with Europeans.

Salt in Taiwan

Like New Zealand, no rock salt deposits exist in Taiwan. Yet, a stela with the inscriptions made by a Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368) official, bearing instructions for the construction of salt fields in Wuzhou, Kinmen was found in Taiwu Mountain in Kinmen. (

There are records of Europeans, Chinese and Japanese coming to Taiwan as early as the second half of the 16th century, for either transferring commodities to the third countries or for trading with the Taiwanese aborigines with agate, cloth, salt, copper, etc. for buckskin (Nakayama, 1959, 24-25). The method of production was presumably based on boiling sea water until salt only is left. This assumption is from the fact that “in the mid-seventeenth century, Cheng Cheng-kung, or Koxinga as he is commonly known, retreated to Taiwan after the fall of the Ming dynasty (around 1644). Chen Yung-hua, one of his generals, disliked the taste of decocted salt which is produced by boiling sea water until nothing is left but a salt residue. Instead, he preferred salt produced using the solar evaporation method. In 1665 he had salt pans constructed at today’s Laikou, located in Tainan County in southern Taiwan.” (Taiwan Today, 1991)

“During the Ching dynasty, six more saltworks were developed. When Liu Ming-chuan was governor of Taiwan in the late nineteenth century, he also served as salt supervisor for the province and established a government salt bureau in Taipei, with a branch in Tainan. Despite his bureaucratic innovations, the island was only able to produce 25,000 tons of salt annually, not enough for local consumption, so additional amounts were imported from the mainland.” (Taiwan Today, 1991)

In the 17th century, there are references from the literature that Taiwan barter traded goods like sulfur, deer hides, and gold for salt, fabrics, and iron with the outside world. (HuangFusan; 2005) This is consistent with the fact that local salt production was too low to supply the local demand.

Salt and the People of Southern Africa

In southern Africa, there are salt pans and salt marshes dotted across the landscape. Technology transfer happened across the region. Högberg, A., and Lombard, M..  2016 have investigated the nature of the technology transfer related to Still Bay Point-Production at Hollow Rock Shelter and Umhlatuzana Rock Shelter and Knowledge-Transfer Systems in Southern Africa at about 80-70 000 years ago.  Even though there is much that is still uncertain, what is clear is that there was technology transfer between groups across the region.  (Högberg, A., and Lombard, M.;  2016) They offer a detailed treatment on ways in which technology transfer took place across vast regions at this particular time in prehistory and knowledge of salts, and its trading would most certainly have followed similar patterns.

Looking at the conditions at the Cape, for example, 300 years ago certainly does not tell us what conditions were like 100 000 years ago, but if we recognise that at least as far as human influence on the environment, major changes accompanies European colonialization. It is instructive to get a glimpse of the region pre-European settlement.

Mentzel describes the abundance of salt in the 1700 Cape Conoly when he writes that in the Drakenstein area “shrubs and renoster-bushes have to serve as firewood and a few small springs supply drinking water. The rainwater that remains in deepened holes very soon becomes dirty and foul in summer and partly brak too: an infallible sign that the soil is saturated with many salt particles and could furnish salt in case of need. It is certain that at one time the entire Cape had brine pits in very many places, not only in the Groenekloof, Zwartkops river, Zwellendam, Saldanha Bay, between the Soete Melks and Gouritz Rivers but indeed in a hundred spots besides, even lying above ground in summer in the Cape district, so that one had merely to gather up the salt and carry it away.” This picture of the Cape is one that we are not familiar with and in the face of such abundance, the gathering of salt would not have left any archeological evidence.

It has been shown that the Khoe in Natal traded in salt from the Makgadikgadi basin eastwards to Zimbabwe. The “location of stone ruins of the Zimbabwe IKhami culture on the edge of the Pan suggests that this trade could be of considerable antiquity.”  (Denbow, 1986)

It is in my opinion beyond reason to believe that the people used their investigative techniques of taste, smell, feel, grinding, burning, dissolving, evaporation and crystallization on matters related to resins, ochre, and sand, but not in regards to salt. They shared knowledge concerning matters of technology far higher up the development ladder such as producing knives, spear, and arrow points and the technology to fasten these onto handles. They produced complex art from the examples in Blombos. They have clearly experimented with the inclusion of different ingredients in glue, important in hunting. It is unthinkable that they did not use the same techniques in experimenting with the object of the hunting namely their food.

Notice the point about the abundance of salt in the soil from the Mentzel quote. It is my guess that the salt content of the plants would have been a lot higher then than it is today and ash from these shrubs would have had a high concentration of sodium. These conditions did not develop overnight and the formation of the salt pits and the accompanying ease of access for humans and animals undoubtedly reach far back into prehistory.

Archaeology is developing sophisticated analytical techniques which will undoubtedly bring concrete facts to light and will clarify the use of salt in prehistory as it is already doing. I may, however, have found some reference in the work of Schapera (1930), The Khoisan Peoples of South Africa and O. F. Mentzel, in his 1778 work, “A Complete & Authentic GEOGRAPHICAL & TOPOGRAPHICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE FAMOUS & (ALL THINGS CONSIDERED) REMARKABLE AFRICAN CAPE OF GOOD HOPE that may be a prelude of sorts to future findings.

Mantzel, in his book, spars with Kolbe who tried to draw parallels between the Khoi and the Jewish people. Mantzel refutes this and makes his arguments off as nonsense. He writes in reference to the Khoi that “they may never eat salt unless they are among the Christians” and later that “Hottentots have no bread and are accustomed to lack of salt from their childhood since most Hottentots live in regions where salt is unobtainable. But when they visit the colonists, leavened bread and food spiced with salt taste excellent to them.” He is incorrect in saying that the Khoe who lived in areas where no natural salt deposits existed were deprived of it. They would have received it from the meat they ingested. Before the colonists arrived at the Cape, the land belonged to the Khoe who lived there and moved in and out of the area. It is however interesting how emphatic he is about the fact that salt was not part of their culture. It is my opinion that the distinction that local people did not have an intimate relationship with salt is a typical European distinction, a bias reflected in the work of many authors of the time and not necessarily bearing any resemblance to reality.

He reveals the value we must place on his opinion when he writes that one should “beware of generalising about anything pertaining to the Hottentots. We shall not have a general history of the Hottentots in a hundred years, and not before someone has taken the trouble to travel not only among their tribes but also among their families and to describe their habits and customs.” Certainly, much of his comments should then be taken “with a grain of salt!”  

In his work, he is not only Eurocentric but derogatory towards the Khoe and for him, the use of salted meat is a sign of the superior culture of the Europeans. Just how much this influenced later interpreters is a good question and how pervasive was this view at the time? It certainly would have skewed their information related to the subject of salted meat.

The first quote of interest from Schapera who is far more objective than Mantzel and is a possible reference to the antiseptic value in ash. He writes, “Scarification seems also to have been employed among the Cape Hottentots and still is among the Naman, in connexion with a large variety of ceremonies — boys’ puberty rites, hunting rites, remarriage, healing of disease, etc. It consists in a number of small cuts made by the officiating person on the chest of the individual concerned, and the wounds are rubbed with ashes, producing slight permanent scars.

It is very likely that one of the earliest encounters of humans with salt was in ash when they scavenged on carcasses of animals killed in wildfires. “Grinding” and “dissolving” was probably two of the earliest investigative techniques developed by early humans, probably even before the invention of technology to produce fire. Once this technology was invented, it took the investigation to another level when they were able to burn and dissolve and salt was undoubtedly have been one of the earliest discoveries in plant ash.

The percentage of salt in ash, however, depends on the plant itself and the soil it grew in. There are also a number of other “salts” besides sodium chloride which would have aided in disinfecting the wound. The alkaline character of ash is the main reason behind its disinfecting ability. It is just as likely that they would have noticed that seawater (saltwater) had a similar “cleansing” effect on wounds. Far more complicated mixtures were used as medication from ancient times. It is unlikely that they would not have valued sea and saltwater in a similar manner. In a time when nothing was wasted and any human excrement was valued, they may have even kept and stored urine for exactly the same reason. (How did Ancient Humans Preserve Food?) Whether it was kept and stored or not, it is clear that among the Khoi people of southern Africa, urine had a value.

Upham reports on one such reference, from Mentzel, related to the coming of age ceremony of young men. Mentzel writes that “the sons do not mix with adults until they are fairly grown-up and are at least 18 years of age. They are then supposed to have outgrown their childhood and are initiated into manhood. This is accompanied by some ceremonies and a feast, the youth being well rubbed in with fat, soot, and sprinkled with buchu by the oldest inhabitant of the kraal.”  (Upham) (Notice the prominent feature of soot)

The youth, thus liberally smeared with fat, is not slow to scratch deep ruts in the ointment with his hands and nails across the length and breadth of his body so that they can be well filled with the essence to follow. The old man then approaches the youth and urinates all over him, from top to bottom, as long as there is a drop left in his bladder, and the youth busily rubs this costly balsam in as thoroughly as possible to get full use out of it.” (Upham)

Mentzel displays a severe case of misplaced Eurocentricity in interpretation and misses the point when he states that “some writers see in this ceremony a religious act, but it is nothing of the kind, being only a ceremony invented to provide something out of the common and festive, to attract a measure of attention. Similar festive acts are practised by all idolators and heathens which, in the absence of scientific knowledge, have been invented by their priests and druids, to make a hocus-pocus for the common people, and which have neither a mystical nor mythological nor an allegorical meaning. Superstition, which is much worse than unbelief, demands something perceptible and dazzling. The Hottentots possess no skill, imagination or power of invention and have too few things they might pretend to be mysterious. That is why they have seized upon this most convenient means of providing something, at least at such a festivity, a means which they have at hand without any trouble or expense. They use the same ceremony, called the “Pisplechtigheid” (‘Urinal Ceremony’) by the Hollanders, when 2 persons wish to cohabit or get married.” (Upham)  Most certainly, the act of urinating on the boys or the couple to be married was filled with meaning and in all likelihood reflected a rich tradition from prehistory. Liquids, potions, and substances of various kinds had a deep spiritual as well as functional meaning and the earliest inhabitants of the region undoubtedly devoted much time to investigate these matters.

A second interesting Schapera quote relates to the naming of tribes. He writes about a group of San called Xom-khoin.  He explains this name by stating that it referred to the “people who xom or scrape together” and then says that “the name indicates their method of collecting salt on the Etosha Pan, along whose southern border they live.” This correlates with what one would expect namely a collection of salt by scraping or gathering it from the surface of the salt pan. There is, however, the possibility that he is wrong in his interpretation of the reason behind the name as he himself acknowledges.

The third interesting Schapera quote relates to the knowledge that animals either congregate around water or salt. Schapera describes a hunting technique used by the San where the men “lie in wait for the game on its way to the water, or in the vicinity of a place where it comes to lick salt. The men hide themselves between stones, or dig a hole in the ground, piling up the earth in front and sticking green branches on top to deceive the game. Occasionally, again, several men surround game in a pan, some standing to leeward ready to shoot, while the others drive from wind-ward, approaching from different quarters.”

The observation that animals are drawn to salt is without a doubt one of the ways that early humans discovered the value of consuming salt. Simple observation would have led them to likewise taste the salt and it would have tasted good due to our own physiology in having special receptors that taste it. If for no other reason, humans would have consumed salt even from a time before we developed complex cognition simply because we like the taste. For the same reason, we would have been drawn to honey. This fact alone would place the incorporation of the consumption of salt at least 100 000 years ago and probably much earlier.

“Tasting” as an investigative technique is undoubtedly behind our very early discovery of different salts and working out how to separate them. We would have tasted the potassium in most of the ash compared to the sodium in some.  Dissolving the ash in water, scraping off the particles that float and crystallising what was left by evaporating the water is without a doubt a very ancient technique of extracting two different kinds of salt.  We would soon have discovered that different salts re-crystallize at different rates by simple observation and by continuing to taste the water.

Schapera, however, gives more details of the Khoe’s relationship to salt. He writes that when they killed an animal, “there is hardly a single portion of the animal not eaten. Even the skin, when not required for other purposes, is roasted in the fire, so that the hair may burn away, and is then cut into strips, which are beaten soft with stones and cooked in water, or preferably milk. All meat is as a rule prepared; sometimes it is cooked in water in wooden (formerly clay) pots, sometimes roasted on spits over the fire, or it may be baked in hot ashes. Fire was formerly made by friction, by the same drilling method as used by the Bushmen.”  This was one of the ways that the San and the Khoi added salt to meat.

He then continues with the most interesting reference to meat as it directly speaks to preservation. He writes that “when not eaten immediately, or when plenty of game has been caught and not all of it can be taken home, the meat is cut into thin strips, which are salted and dried in the air. In this condition, it will last for a considerable time, and can also be eaten raw.” This 1930 report on a Khoe practice becomes my earliest possible reference to meat preservation by an indigenous southern African tribe to preserve meat. He writes that “the Boer method of making “biltong” is probably derived from this old Hottentot practice.” As an interesting side note, notice the love of fat which is similar to something I learned from the Maori people. He writes that “meat broth is not especially esteemed, but the fat of the animal, either raw or as dripping, is highly appreciated and is sometimes drunk warm as a separate dish.

The question is of course if the Dutch farmers saw the salting of Bilting from the Khoe or were it the other way round?  I don’t for a second believe that salt preservation of meat was something completely unfamiliar to the San and Khoe people and I am convinced that salt was generally available throughout the region, albeit as a “luxury item” and scarce in many areas. Whether one can rely on one reference from one author in the 1930’s to say that the Khoi made biltong and that this is its origin is a hard sell. I think it is far more plausible that biltong is the slight re-working of an old Dutch dish but it was definitely inspired by the indigenous practice (Saltpeter, Horse Sweat, and Biltong: The origins of our national food)

Upon publishing this article, M. G. Upham sent me a note and referred me to the work of Anders Sparrman.  He published his 1786 account entitled, “A Voyage to the Cape of Good Hope, towards the Antarctic Polar Circle, and Round the World: but chiefly into the Country of the Hottentots and Caffres, from the year 1772 to 1776.  He writes about the Khoe “that they absolutely detest salt.” It is a sweeping statement. I have never come across people who “absolutely detest” salt.  The context of the statement refers to the use of salt in meat. If his statement means that they detest the European heavy salted meat – they would be in good company as most people, even in Europe detested this taste which is one of the reasons why sugar was added at this time in curing recipes (to break the extremely salty taste) and why even bacon was first left in freshwater to draw some of the salt out before consuming it.  

He says that they either eat the meat fresh or else dry it in the sun.  The fresh meat is “dressed” by “broiling” it over coals. According to Sparrman, meat preservation of the Koe was sun-drying without salt being added. So far, then, I can only find the statement of Schapera about salt used by the Khoe to produce a kind of biltong. More references by different authors on this matter will swing the weight of the evidence, but for now, I remain sceptical.

There is one further Schapera-reference to look at. He writes about the burial practices of the Khoe people. “As soon as a death has taken place, the body of the person is prepared for burial. Formerly according to a description given by Scheppmann, the hands were crossed over the breast, and the head bent forward between the legs, which were sharply folded at the knee. The body was then fastened together and wrapped in skins. Hahn adds that before the body was wrapped up in this way or sewn up in skins, the son of the dead man first killed a goat and smeared the body of his father with the blood — a practice not mentioned by other writers.” Nowadays the eyes of the dead person are closed, then the body is washed by old women, and stretched flat on its back; the arms lie along the sides, and the hands, palm downward, are folded over the bosom. The body is then wrapped and sewn up in skins, whose hairy side, strewn with huchu is turned inwards. The face remains free till shortly before burial, when it is covered with a bit of skin which has been set aside and which is now loosely stitched to the others.

The fascinating part of the quote is a reference to a 1712 work by Biden and Kling which says that “in these more degenerate days the body may sometimes be sewn up in old bags, if obtainable, and a small amount of salt is placed on its chest, to prevent it from decomposingBurial takes place as a rule on the afternoon following the day of death. Till then the corpse is left alone lying on the ground skins in the hut, while the relatives, neighbours, and friends spend the whole night together outside the hut singing.”

The dating of the reference is of interest. It is made 60 years after the arrival of Van Riebeeck at the Cape of Good Hope. The possible reference to meat preservation is certainly in reference to a time before any Western influences changed the Khoe’s burial culture. Of course, there is the possibility that Biden and Kling misinterpreted the purpose of the salt. In reality, placing salt on the chest of the deceased would not have contributed to preserving the body in any way and he states in the very next sentence that the body was buried the next day which makes it even more irrelevant.

Unlike the biltong reference, there are ample references from history, African history and southern African history in particular related to salt being used in preserving human bodies, as a medicine for people who develop complications due to a meat deficient diet and its value as an antiseptic and the treatment of wounds. These references all stem from Botswana and Zambia and it refers in all likelihood to traditions that predate European influences.

David Livingston, working in Botswana, describes that he often saw conditions in the early 1800’s on his travels in Africa, where poor people were forced to live on a vegetarian diet alone and as a result of this developed indigestion.  His comment came in the context of a reference to the Bakwains, part of the Bechuana people, who allowed rich and poor to eat from the meat hunted.  He mentions that the doctors knew what the cause of the indignation was and that it was related to a lack of salt intake. (Hyde, A., et al.; 1876: 150)

When Livingston passed away in Zambia in 1875, the tribe used salt to preserve his body after which his body was exposed to the sun for 14 days to dry in an embalming ceremony. Livingston’s embalming was done in order to facilitate the repatriation of the body.  (Hyde, A., et al.;  1867:  150) This shows that even though salt consumption in this region was by all accounts low, especially in light of the abundance of the resource, the knowledge of its benefits existed and was a part of pre-Colonial life.

Another credible report came to us from the father-in-law of David Livingston in the person of Robert Moffat (21 December 1795 – 9 August 1883), the Scottish Congregationalist missionary to Africa.  The observations of Moffat is reported by Johnston (1914) in his work, Pioneers in South Africa. Around 1826 Moffatt made the following observation which directly speaks to salt as a preservative. Not for animal flesh, but insects. Locusts in particular. He wrote that “whenever a cloud of locusts alighted at a place not far distant from a native town or village, the natives turned out with sacks and even with pack-oxen, and returned to their homes with millions of locusts, which were soon afterwards prepared for eating by being boiled, or rather steamed, in a large pot with a little water, closely covered. After boiling for a short time they were taken out and spread on mats in the sun to dry. Then, by winnowing, they were rid of their legs and wings, and were afterwards packed into sacks or thrown in heaps on the clean floors of huts. The natives either ate them whole with a little salt or pounded them in a wooden mortar into a kind of meal, which they afterwards mixed with water and made into a cold porridge of locusts. On food like this, the natives would become fat, and even the missionaries did not refuse to eat the locusts; for, when well fed on new vegetation, they were ”as good as shrimps

Whenever salt was available and preservation with salt was an option, it can be well imagined that the native inhabitants of southern Africa did not hesitate to use it as such. Indeed the knowledge was part of this lad before the arrival of Europeans and there is no reason to doubt that it has been the case for aeons of time.  It is, after all, not such a difficult thing to figure out!

The abundance of food – a possible reason for low salt usage

It is undeniable that salt was scarce in many regions in southern Africa. This is however not true for vast regions where salt was in abundance. The question comes up why not even in these regions salt never became entrenched in the culture of local peoples, at least not those in recent history that we still had contact with before European influences changed their culture.  Deacon (1993) found no evidence that stone age foragers stored plants for future consumption other than oil-rich seed and fruits used as cosmetics. It seemed that there was a heavy reliance on the bounty of food in the environment and sharing networks. Peoples living in the Kalahari relied heavily on plant foods which in the past possibly made up as much as 80% of all food consumed.

This would have applied to meat preservation also and despite the fact that it occurred, there is no evidence that it was a regular practice by either the Khoe or the San. The abundance of food in prehistoric southern Africa must have been something to behold. I recently spoke to a man who told me when he was a small boy and they went fishing with his father, the size of shellfish they used to pick up on the beach was astronomical. This is a small example of the scale of the abundance of food in southern Africa which places the question of meat preservation in a completely new light.  Coupled with this the realization that ancient humans probably ate fermented and partially decomposed meat for the largest part of prehistory, puts the lack of salt-preserved meat even further in context. BUT, the notion that the people, native to southern Africa did not know about the antiseptic and preserving nature of salt is in my opinion not probable.

Ash in Food

On one of my own journeys into the interior, Minette accompanied me. In the Eastern Transvaal, we passed a cave that has been intermittently inhabited since 85 000 before the present. At the cave, we found an old man who was stationed there by the farmer who owned the land to prevent people from entering it and vandalising it. This old man’s memory through his father goes back at least 170 years. He gave a very definitive link between dried meat and salt.  Not in the form of salt, but in the form of ash. He clearly remembers his dad telling him that before meat that was hung out to dry is consumed, the meat is either boiled again or roasted in ash.

This speaks to the entire issue of the history of biltong, but it shows that meat was indeed, as one can expect, cooked “in the ash” and was probably done so for many years before cooking pots were invented. That the ash gave a flavour to the meat is evident from the enduring nature of the practice and by the testimony of the elder at the cave. Not only is it improbable for the ancients of Southern Africa not to have known about the preserving power of salt, but in all likelihood, they regularly supplemented their diet with salt through ash. The percentage of salt is dependant on the type of tree or shrub used for the source of the ash, but that they received a variety of minerals through this practice is clear.

FAR more important than any of this, he remembers that they rolled the meat in the ash before it was hung out to dry.  He makes a very interesting point that if you don’t do that, how else will you keep the flies and other insects from the meat. This is a remarkable statement. It means that salt and minerals like potassium were definitely applied to the meat BEFORE it was hung out to dry.

Elanor Muller sent me the following additional information regarding the practice of drying meat and then rehydrating it in a stew. The Zimbabwean Ndebele people have a traditional dish which they call Ewomileyo.  Modern-day people add peanut butter to the dish. This is no doubt done in accordance with an old practice of adding nuts to the meat dish.  It is also called Umhwabha or the Zulu name for it is Umqayiba. In Venda, it is done in two ways. Dried meat is placed on a braai or they grill it and stump it. It is then cooked, or dried meat is recooked and mixed with peanuts.  All vegetables and meat, mixed with peanuts are called Dovhi.

The fact of dried meat as something that was customarily done when large game was killed is by now a well-documented fact and one that reaches back into antiquity. The thing that everybody probably omits when they describe the practice of drying may be the rubbing of the meat with ash because even in rural Africa today, there are today other ways to keep flies and insects off the meat. In describing the way it is currently done, eyewitnesses may either omit the testimony by the elder at the cave or they may, in reality, use different modern methods. Their purpose in antiquity for rubbing or rolling the meat in ash may have been to manage the flies, but in actual fact, they achieved the rapid kind of dehydration required to lower the water activity in the meat to a level where microorganisms could no longer proliferate. This dehydration (lowering of the water activity) is even today the main reason why salt is used.  In many ways, preservation IS the removal of free, unbound water from meat. The dehydration would be achieved through the salts as well as the air movement in the form of wind as the meat hangs in the trees. If this was done in the cool of the day and sufficient dehydration occurred before the meat temperature was raised to levels that would favour microbial growth (through the sun), the ancients of Southern Africa would have indeed cured their meat! If the curing was not effective, the meat would be roasted in ash again, as explained by the elder at the cave, which would have mitigated the off-flavours in exactly the same way as we use garlic or pepper or any other strong spice to “mask” off flavours today.

A few days after our arrival in the far North East of the country, we had a fascinating discussion with Piet Otto. Piet grew up as a  Zulu boy, even undergoing their inauguration rights. As a young man, he was so fascinated with the ability of the Bushman to track their prey that he lived with a tribe of Bushman in the wild for almost 8 months. In small pouches, Bushman, to this day carries a small quantity of salt with them for a variety of purposes. He further attests to the practice that many tribes cooked their meat by burying it in the hot ash or laying it on top of the ash and the nice flavour that was imparted into the meat in this manner. He told us that there are many ancient salt mines in the area and that salt was not unknown to the local tribes. They, however, seldom used it in its pure form the way westerners did and still do.

The clear evidence, however, stands that local people of Southern Africa salted and dried their meat. The salting was achieved through ash. Once I knew not to look for salt, but for ash, I found the practice remarkably well documented.  In his 1908 publication, Travels in Southern Africa, Henry Lichtenstein records, about the Tswana people from Bechuana Land that “salt properly, they have none; instead of it they make use of natron, or the ash of a certain salt succulent plant: their favourite mode of dressing their meat is to roast it in the ashes.”  (Lichtenstein, 1803)

Evidence from 1687

Evidence is clear that the people from Southern Africa were well aware of salt including its use as a preservative. In 1897 George McCall Theal published his “History of South Africa Under the Administration of the Dutch East India Company, 1652 to 1795″. He tells a story that goes back to 1687 where “a party of shipwrecked men arrived at the Bay of Natal.” They were from the Bona Ventura of London which was lost on 25 December 1686 at St. Lucia Bay. “One of her crew was drowned, and the remaining eight men and a boy set out with the intention of walking overland to the Cape of Good Hope, but to their great joy, they found at Natal a party of Europeans and a vessel nearly ready for sea. The newcomers were welcomed to a share of whatever the others had, and in return joined them in the labour on hand.”

“Soon after this, the little vessel was launched and named the Centaurus.” He then makes the following fascinating statement. He writes that “a supply of provisions was purchased from the natives (at the bay of Natal), consisting of about six or seven thousand pounds of millet, a thousand pounds of salted and smoked meat, a quantity of millet ground into meal, twenty goats, between two and three hundred fowls, and a hundred and fifty pumpkins. Seventeen small casks of water were put on board, and the ivory which the Englishmen had obtained in barter was shipped.” The native people of Natal smoked and salted their meat.  That is clear.

To complete the story, “the difficult task which they had undertaken was at length finished, and on the 17th of February 1687, a year and a day after the wreck of the Stavenisse, the Centaurus was ready for sea. But at the last moment throe of the Englishmen who had been wrecked in the William Christian of the Good Hope resolved to remain behind. They had formed connections with the natives, and contrasting the ease of life at Natal with the hardships endured at sea, they clung to the former. An Englishman and a Frenchman of the Rmoi Ventura’s crew also preferred to stay where they were. There sailed then in the Centaurtis the eleven men of the Stavenisse, seven of the Bona Ventura, and John Kingston and William Christian of the Good Hope.”

“They had neither chart nor compass, so they kept in sight of the coast all the way to Table Bay, where they arrived safely on the 1st of March.”  (McCall Theal, 1897)  The facts of the knowledge of salt and its many uses by the peoples of southern Africa is obscure, but when one begins to dig, its evidence becomes replete. It becomes clear that curing and smoking of meat are not confined to the people of Italy, Germany, Spain or England and that Africa itself has a rich and long history, stretching back into antiquity.

Why is the Sea Salty?

Having given ample treatment to salt found on land, there is the last question we have to look at and that is the nature of the salinity of the sea. How does salt end up in the sea and other bodies of water? Why is the sea, salty? These questions plagued humanity for centuries and many authors examined the question. The famous pre-Socratic philosopher and poet, Empedocles (490-430BC) said that seawater is “the Sweat of the Earth.” Aristotle (384-322BC) observed that saltwater was heavier and denser than freshwater and that it contained more than just salt and commented on both its salt and bitter taste. The Roman natural philosopher and naval commander Pliny the Elder (25 – 76AC) wrote extensively about it; the philosopher, Lucius Seneca (3BCE – 65AD) noticed that water level and the salinity of the sea remained constant even though the water was constantly being added by rivers and rain. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) discussed the matter at length in his famous “The Notebooks” (Note 946).  Robert Boyle, published in 1674, “Observations and Experiments in the Saltness of the Sea.” In the late 18th century, Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) used evaporation with a solvent extraction to obtain data for his analysis of seawater. He wrote papers on seawater and the Dead Sea. Torbern Bergman (1774) examined all natural water and developed a list of the substances that he had identified in seawater. Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac (1778–1850), the famous French chemist and physicist devoted considerable energy to the study of seawater and its saltiness. The Danish chemist Johann Georg Forchhammer (1794-1865) focused on an accurate estimation of the principal salt components, such as chlorine, sulfuric acid, magnesia, lime, potash, and soda. Georg Forchhammer found that the ratio of major salts in samples of seawater from various locations was constant, known as Forchhammer’s Principle, or the Principle of Constant Proportions. There is the legendary work of W Dittmar (1884) on 77 samples collected by the chemist J Y Buchanan during the Challenger Expedition (1872-1876).  (progression from

The salt of the seas

Hundreds of years of scientific inquiry eventually culminated in the realisation that the saltiness of the sea was the result of the erosion of the earth’s crust and its transport to the sea by the rivers. Condensation of freshwater from the sea would probably increase the saltiness. Every mineral and element found in the earth is therefore found in seawater, salt marches, and salt springs. The most abundant two elements in the sea are the elements of sodium and chloride (47 millimoles of sodium and 546 millimoles of chloride per L of seawater). This fact reflects the abundance of these elements in the earth’s crust and throughout the universe. (Laszlo, P, 1998: 92)

The salt of the earth becomes the salt of the sea and marshes and springs where the elements from the soil are transported to and combine in a crystal, rich in the fullness of the earth itself with elements like magnesium, sulfur, calcium, potassium, bromine, carbon and many others. These elements add taste to salt, yet industrialisation demands that we strip them out to produce what is called a pure salt comprising of only sodium and chloride.

Pure Sodium Chloride for Industry

The hungry monster created by the industrialized revolution had to be fed and one of the foods it loved most is salt – pure salt! So followed a scramble to produce just that. The Belgian chemist, Ernest Sovay invented a process to create soda ash (sodium carbonate) in 1861 from salt brine. He took limestone which contains calcium carbonate and applied heat to it which releases the carbon dioxide. Together with ammonia and sodium chloride, it is one of the main chemical feedstocks of the industrial revolution and is used to make glass. Much of the chlorine production in the world currently in the 1890s goes towards the production of bleaching agents, produced by an electrolysis method. (Stringer, R and Johnston, P, 2001: 1)

The Chloralkali process is emerging as an even larger industry using salt. When electricity is passed through salt brine (often with the aid of mercury), two major chemical products are produced: caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) and chlorine. (1) (Bitterman, M, 2010: 25) There is currently recognition around the world that much money is to be made from electrochemistry and the transmission of table salt to chlorine and caustic soda in a single step. (Stringer, R and Johnston, P, 2001: 1)

Synthesised salt industries are emerging, for example, the Wyandotte Chemical Company and Dow Chemical Company in the USA. Dow Chemicals is pioneering its own processes to produce caustic soda and hydrochloric acid that will be used in producing sodium chloride (table salt). (Laszlo, P, 1998: 109)

I can understand the focus on sodium chloride, from an industrial perspective. If the other components found in seawater are not required to drive the industrial processes; if other elements can complicate it for the industrial machine, why not purify it to the point where almost all other elements have been removed? In experiments done at many of the universities, we already see glimpses of what chlorine can give us. It is magnificent. I can see a future time when there will only be pure sodium chloride available as salt and the world will be poorer for it.

salt sea

Natural Salt

Industrialization takes salt to what nature never intended it to be namely pure sodium chloride. Naturally and normally, when this happens, the main thing that suffers is our own taste and the culinary arts that rely on the rich and fullness of the taste of natural salt, brought about by the presence of many elements.

There is a move in Europe, as probably across the world, away from the different artisan salt companies, who produce salts, as distinct as different wines from Italy and Spain. It becomes difficult for them to compete with salt that is produced synthetically for industry.  Industry also demands salt companies who recover salt from the ocean, springs, and mine it from the earth to remove every other element except sodium and chloride.

Despite the obvious advantages of science and industrialisation, this seems to be a wholly unfortunate move. We are losing our soul! Sacrificing that which is unique and tasty and requires skills, passed down through hundreds of years, yes, in many instances for thousands of years, for something common and ordinary and universally the same, intended for industrial use.

Livingston once told my dad about huge salt reserves in the interior of the continent, the vast salt pans of Africa. One is called Ntwetwe in Betsuhana Land (3), which he, Livingston, has described as 25km’s long and 160 across. Then there are the salt pans of Unyanyembe and many more. (Livingstone, D, 2002: 72,630) Even just to the north of Cape Town are salt works that have existed for hundreds if not thousands of years. I intend to suggest to Oscar that we keep using this natural salt with its unique quality and that we get hold of the salts of Ntwetwe to see if the taste differs from that which we find in Europe. I strongly suspect it will!

I see no reason why we cannot produce bacon in Africa as unique as the bacon from England, Germany, America, and Holland and a differentiating feature can be that we use unrefined African salt. Our mission is to first understand how the Europeans make bacon and then to change it slightly, thus creating a signature product that contains the spirit of the African land.

The Taste of Salt

I thought that we would start our consideration of sodium chloride by looking at its preserving function. In fact, to my surprise, we started with salt and its taste. Taste is as important as its function and saltpetre and sugar are normally added to mask the saltiness of the meat. If we can alter the taste, enhance it, by the simple act of being very careful where we buy our salt, then this seems like a most excellent suggestion. John Harris reminded me that if our trade is the production of food, we are in the first place obliged to produce something of superb taste.

Our own bodies are about 99% oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorous. The remaining 1% is potassium, sulfur, sodium, magnesium, iron and many other elements. The similarities between our bodies and what we find in seawater are striking. (Bitterman, M, 2010: 33)

I think one of the functions of taste is to differentiate between what is harmful to us and what our body needs. If salt that contains the fullness of seawater or marsh salt or salt springs taste better than pure sodium chloride (pure salt as some people call it), does it not stand to reason that there must be something intrinsically healthy in the natural, unrefined salt? Taste is one of the most important determining factors in what we use in our food. It is known that taste elicits a sensation, on parr with sexual experiences which explains why food prominently feature in combination with the sexual.

Lake Asale

Lake Asale

Implications about the origin of nitrite/ nitrate curing

It is not possible for a curing man to discuss sodium chloride and after such a lengthy consideration not return to the matter of nitrate curing. While people living in desert areas would have discovered that certain salts have the ability to change the colour of meat from brown, back to pinkish/ reddish, along with increased preservation power and a slightly distinct taste, it is certainly true that coastal dwellers would have observed the same. They would have noticed that sea salt or bay salt have the same ability.

Dr. Francois Mellett, a renown South African food scientist, sent me the following very interesting theory about the earliest discovery of the curing process in a private communication between us on the matter. He wrote, “I have a theory that curing started even earlier by early seafarers: when a protein is placed in seawater, the surface amino acids are de-aminated to form nitrite for a period of 4 to 6 weeks. Nitrite is then converted to nitrate over the next 4 weeks. Finally, ammonia and ammoniac are formed from nitrate. It is possible that they preserved meat in seawater barrels and that the whole process of curing was discovered accidentally.”

I think he is on the right track. I suspect that people discovered this even long before barrels were invented. The use of seawater for meat storage and further preparation was so widespread that it would have been impossible not to have noticed meat curing taking place. If it is generally true that earliest humans first settled around coastal locations before migrating inland, it could push the discovery of curing many thousands of years earlier than we ever imagined, to a time when modern humans started spreading around the globe. When did it develop into an art or a trade is another question altogether, but I think we can safely push the time when it was noticed back to the earliest cognitive and cultured humans whom we would have recognized as thinking “like us” if we could travel back in time and meet them. I think the question of recognition in different regions we can safely put at the time when these areas were populated. The story of salt and meat curing is truly a story as old as cognitive and cultured humanity itself.

Michail at C & T Harris pointed out that not all the elements in natural salt may react with meat in the same way and that it is important that scientists apply their minds to these matters. Other elements may interfere with the curing process. Salt is a “simple crystal” with complex implications for meat curing. There is potassium in saltpetre and this does not seem to have a detrimental effect on meat curing even though it has a slight aftertaste which is unpleasant. Chilean saltpetre, being sodium nitrate seems to be a most excellent curing agent. Then again, scientists from ages past had great difficulty in distinguishing between potassium and sodium based on taste.

At first, we were looking at factory space behind the cold rooms of Combrink & Co..  Oscar showed me the land he is considering buying for the Woodys factory just outside of Paarl. There is an old butchery that we may be able to take over (4). I am very excited. It means that the plan of producing the best bacon in the world is coming together.

At the beginning of the project, I saw David and his Combrinck & Co. as our opposition, but I realise that he may end up being our customer.  I am very much interested in talking to him about his plans to set up a large refrigeration plant in Cape Town.  He may end up being our client and distributor.

However it works out, we have many options and have the luxury to sit back and see which one of the plans come to fruition.  I am enjoying the trip back to England so much more with Minette being with me than travelling there on my own.  I seriously wish that you guys could join us.

For now, focus on your schoolwork. Study hard. Spend much time on Table Mountain. Look after each other. Please send your mom and Johann our love and greetings as well as your grandparents. Minette also send you loads of love!

Life is short!

Your Dad!


(c) eben van tonder

Stay in touch


(1) “Today, chloralkali processing is the largest single consumer of salt. Rayon, explosives, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, shampoos, soaps, skin lotions, drying bleach, surgical cautery, petroleum refining – about fourteen thousand other products and processes all require these chemicals or the chemicals made from them. Between the Sovay and choloralkali processes, salt is the second biggest chemical feedstock after petroleum”

K+S, a German based salt producer, had a production capacity of 30 million tons of salt in 2009. China National Salt had a 19 million ton capacity. Compass Minerals and Cargill each have a capacity of about 14 million tons. Dampier has a capacity of 9 million tons, Artyomos, 7.5 million tons, Exportadora de Sel, 7 million tons, Sudsalz, 5.3 million tons, the Salins Group, 4.1 million tons, Mitsui & Co, 3.8 million tons, Kzo Nobel, 3.6 million tons. Their production is split between salt for industry/ pharmaceuticals, chemicals, roads, and the food sector.

Production is understandably geared towards the production of a pure sodium chloride salt from an industrialised perspective. Everything else is unfortunately and unjustifiably viewed as contaminants.

NaCl (sodium chloride) is a celebration of the industrialism. (Bitterman, M, 2010: 25 – 27)

Most of the small salt companies with their unique methods of salt production have been driven out of business by the march of industrialisation.  Today there is a strong movement back to these artisan techniques of salt production.

Salt remains the most under-valued food ingredient and at the same time, the ingredient with the biggest potential.

(2)  Northern Rhodesia is present-day Zambia and Southern Rhodesia is present-day Zimbabwe. (Gray, W, 2007: 20)

(3) Betsuhana Land is present-day Botswana.

(4)  Negotiation started with Roelcor in 2013 to take over half of an existing meat factory to be used as the production facility for Woodys Consumer Brands (Pty) Ltd.


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From the article, “Salt Production at a Post-Lapita Village in Nadroga.”

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