Thursday, July 13, 2017

Salt of the Earth?

On our Facebook page, someone asked Erin “What other inexpensive,yet hard to produce in the field, multi-purpose consumables should agood prepper stack deep in their pantry?” My reply was “Salt, unless you are near an ocean”. OkieRhio wrote a post about salt back in 2015, so I will try to avoid repeating what she said.

Salt is one of the most versatile commodities on the planet. It is used to preserve food, is a raw material for producing a bunch of other chemicals, and is essential for staying alive. Humans have harvested salt from the oceans for at least 6,000 years according to archaeological evidence, and it has been used as currency is several time periods (the “sal” in “salary” is Latin for salt - some Roman legions were paid in salt). Since there are about 35 grams of salt (1.2 ounces) in every liter (quart) of sea water, harvesting salt is merely a matter of collecting sea water and letting the sun and wind evaporate off the water. If you see gray or black pieces of salt, it is due to sediment (mud) formed during the evaporation of sea water. The dark pieces can be sorted out and discarded if you choose.

For Food
Common table salt is Sodium Chloride (NaCl) with traces of other chemicals that vary by location and method of processing. These trace elements may be called “pollutants” or “additives” by some writers, see my article on FUD for an explanation of that marketing method. The benefits or dangers of any additive is a specialized branch of medical research (toxicology) that I'm not going to dig into today. Just beware of paying too much for a cleverly marketed "miracle" salt that is 95-99% NaCl.

If you're buying salt for table use, get a brand that has Iodine (I) added to provide a source of that necessary mineral. Iodine helps regulate your thyroid gland and its hormone production, and is lacking in most common in-land foods. Seafood is a good source of Iodine, but not all of us live near the oceans (and seawater alone doesn't contain enough Iodine to meet your body's needs anyway). Consuming the eyeballs of wild game is about the only reliable source of Iodine that I'm aware of for land-locked survivors. I pick up an extra one-pound container of Iodized salt at the grocery store when I need to restock the pantry, as it's fairly cheap and has no shelf-life. Bulk forms of salt can be ground as fine as you want for table use, and are a lot cheaper.

If you're buying salt for livestock (they need it to function just like you), the ubiquitous saltblocks are still out there. I suggest buying them locally at a feed and grain store since the shipping cost on them is horrible. White blocks are pure salt; the colored ones are mineral blocks that provide a source of trace minerals (amounts and types will vary). Pure salt is the same as what you'd get in the round cardboard containers at the grocery store, so it is safe to use in your food. If 50 pounds of salt is too much, check the local pet supply stores for the roundblocks designed for rabbits. A 3 ounce “wheel” of salt is easy to store and use, plus it won't spill. Regardless of which size you get, it's easy to store bulk salt when it is in a solid block, and shaving or grinding an edge will get you what you need to season your food.

For Chemicals
For chemical production, you can look for suppliers that can provide any quantity you need in a variety of forms and packages; 50 pound bags are common and cost less than $10.00. Most bulk salt is sold as a de-icer and may have additives, so read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) and look for pure salt. De-icing salt that is advertised to work below 5° F is not pure salt.

Another source of bulk salt is your local grocery or hardware store (in most of the US). Look for softener salt, used to regenerate the resin beds of home water softeners. Solar salt crystals are usually the cheapest and are more pure than the varieties with chemical additives designed to protect a water softener. Rock salt is another name for solar salt; it depends on your regional dialect. A 40 pound bag of crystal or flake salt normally costs $5.00 or less here in the Midwest, but be warned, the pelletized forms usually have unwanted additives.

Do not consume anything that has “System saver” or “Resin Clean” on the label. The manufacturers have proprietary blends of additives that are trade secrets, so you have no idea of what they've added to the salt. In fact, I do not recommend using salt with additives for any food use, and any chemical uses would have to take the “adulterants” into consideration. At best you may end up with sludge in the bottom of your equipment, but at worst they may create explosive gasses. Do your research for potentially dangerous reactions.

Storing salt is about as simple as it gets. Since most of the salt sold in the US is mined from underground deposits, it should be obvious that it has an indefinite shelf-life. Those deposits were laid down a couple of thousand years ago (at least), so it's safe to let it sit on your shelf for a few more years. Keep it dry, since any water added to salt makes for a corrosive solution, but heat and cold - at least at the levels found in normal storage conditions - won't have any effect on it. You'd have to get it up to about 1500° F to melt it, so short of a house fire it will handle any heat you can give it.

Salt is cheap, easy to store, and is something that everyone physically needs to survive. Why wouldn't you have a stockpile set aside if you have the room for it?

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