Would you be surprised to learn that one of the most common items found in your kitchen or on your dinner table used to be worth as much as gold? It’s true! What are we talking about? Sugar? Pepper? Nope! It’s salt.

From time to time, you may have heard someone say that someone or something is “worth its salt.” This common idiom means that someone or something deserves respect and is worth its cost or has value.

The phrase originated with the Ancient Romans, who valued salt highly. Over time, salt has often been associated with good things, because of its health benefits and great value.

Great value? Yes, even though today’s table salt can be purchased cheaply at the grocery store, salt was very valuable thousands of years ago.

Scientists believe that the harvesting of salt from salt water dates back at least 8,000 years. In ancient times — before modern canning methods and refrigeration — salt was used as a preservative, especially for meats.

Our bodies need salt to function properly. Salt helps to control the level of water in the body. It also helps the nervous system to send electrical signals to the brain.

When ancient peoples began to farm and eat more vegetables and less red meat (which already has salt), adding salt to food became necessary. Salt is also one of the basic human tastes, and people enjoyed adding salt to add flavor to bland foods.

So everyone wanted and needed salt, but only a few areas of the world could produce it — either through access to salt water or underground salt mines. As a result, salt became a top trade item with great value.

Ancient Roman soldiers were paid with special money that could be used to purchase salt. This special money was called salarium, from which we get our modern word “salary.” In fact, salt was so expensive during the Middle Ages that it was often called “white gold.”

Salt is a mineral made up of sodium chloride, a chemical compound formed from sodium and chlorine. It comes in several different forms. Most of the salt on Earth is dissolved in the oceans. The salt that can be found underground comes from oceans that have dried up due to climate changes over time.

Unrefined salt, such as sea salt, is made by evaporating sea water until only salt remains. It is not eaten often, because it usually has impurities from other minerals that give it a bitter taste. These unrefined salts are often used in bathing additives (bath salts) and cosmetics.

The table salt we use to season our food is refined salt. The refining process removes impurities and improves its taste. Most salt produced today isn’t used for food, though. In addition to producing salt to use on icy roads, there are many other industrial uses for salt, including in the manufacture of pulp, paper, soaps and detergents.

You may also see iodized salt on grocery store shelves. Iodized salt is table salt with added compounds that contain iodine. Iodized salt helps to reduce iodine deficiency, which can lead to many different types of health problems.

Even though salt is necessary for health, too much salt can cause health problems, including high blood pressure. Today, doctors recommend limiting salt intake. Many traditionally salty foods can now be found in low-sodium varieties.


84 Join the Discussion

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    • Hello, Rahul! That’s a super guess! We’ll all have to check back tomorrow for some FUN and GAMES, then, won’t we? :-)

  1. I’m glad I’m the first person to post a comment. I like salt on almost anything. Today’s wonder is a good one. Keep it up with the wonders!!! I have a question. Can you put a wonder on the website that includes wrestling like WWE?

    • Hi, Anthony! Wonder Friend, Rahul, only beat you by a few minutes on the first comment, but being the second person to comment is super awesome, too! Way to go! :-)

      Thanks so much for your suggestion of a wrestling Wonder of the Day®! We think that’s a GREAT idea! :-)

  2. In our class, we read this article and the students really thought it was interesting to learn about salt. One thought it was interesting that 8,000 yrs ago salt existed. Another liked learning about where salt came from. Myself with other students couldn’t believe salt used to be worth so much….Really enjoyed this article.
    Mrs. J Martins class
    McKell Elementary
    South Shore, KY

    • We REALLY liked hearing all the cool facts you guys learned about by exploring this Wonder of the Day®, Mrs. Martins 3rd grade class! Thank you for sharing them with us by leaving us this WONDERful comment! :-)

  3. Hey, this is Dalton from Ms. Brasdis’ class. I learned that salt used to be worth as much as gold, and that back in the day, salt was really rare.

    • Those are some GREAT facts about salt, Dalton! Thank you for sharing what you learned from this Wonder of the Day® with us! :-)

  4. This is John from Mrs. Brasdis’ class, and I learned so much about salt. I learned how salt was expensive in Greece many years ago!

    • What a super nice thing to say about your classmates, Callie! We’re sure they would agree that you are worth your salt, too! :-)

  5. We are looking forward to tomorrow’s wonder of the day because we think it is going to be about video games!!!

    • Hello, Room 20 Mrs Grimes East Longmeadow MA 5th Grade! We think you guys will REALLY like tomorrow’s Wonder! Thanks for trying to guess what you think it might be about! :-)

  6. This is Kaytlyn from Ms. Brasdis’ Bell 8 class, I really liked the fact that you made. In fact, it can be very useful to people researching! :) Keep on making them awesome facts!

    • Hi there, Tyrene! Thanks for sharing your opinion of salt! Even though salt is cheap and easy to obtain for most people in today’s modern world, it used to be worth a LOT because it was hard to find and purchase. We appreciate that we don’t have to exchange gold for salt anymore! :-)

  7. Hey, this is Marcus from Mrs. Brasdis’ class. Salt does make french fries taste good and the wonder of the day tomorrow will be how you give me a 320gb playstation 3 and a game stop 500 dollar gift card. Thanks for all your great wonders. Bye!

    • That would be a GREAT Wonder for you, wouldn’t it, Marcus? :-) We hope you appreciate that we CAN give you a fun place to learn new things and share the WONDER around you every day…we can all share Wonderopolis (and it’s FREE!). :-)

  8. Hi, I’m Anthony L. from Mrs. Brasdis’ bell 8. I think the wonder of the day for tomorrow is gaming systems and great games with them. Anyways, I never knew that salt is “gold”!! Now I want to buy a salt bag at Wal-Mart and go back in time to get some $$$$$$$$!! Keep up the great (maybe even perfect) Wonders of the Day!

    • Now, THAT is some super smart thinking, Anthony! Maybe there will be a Wonder about TIME MACHINES coming up soon so you can combine it with your idea to go back in time to sell salt from this Wonder! Thanks for sharing such a great comment with us today! :-)

    • Welcome to Wonderopolis, Diamond! We’re sure glad you’re here! Thank you for visiting this Wonder of the Day® today! :-)

  9. Hey, this Denajiah from Mrs. Brasdis’ 8th Bell Class. It Was Boring, But I Learned That Salt Used To Be Worth As Much As Gold.

    • Hello, DeNajiah! Thank you for letting us know what you thought about today’s Wonder…we appreciate your comment! We are happy to hear that you learned a cool new fact about salt today! :-)

  10. This is Kaytlyn again, and what I learned is that if gold was worth as much as it was in the past, then many people would be rich. :) And many people would be happy, right? :P

    • It’s true that gold and riches make some people very happy, Kaytlyn! Other people consider themselves to be even richer than people with material wealth because they have an awesome family, fantastic friends and their health to celebrate every day! We guess it’s all how you look at it! :-)

  11. Hey, this Tiarrah from Mrs. Brasdis’ 8th bell class. It was boring, but I learned that salt used to be worth as much as gold!

    • We’re sorry you thought today’s Wonder was boring, Tiarrah, but we’re glad you got to learn something new about salt! Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis today! :-)

  12. Hi! This is Adrena from Ms. Brasdis’ 8th bell, and I learned that “worth your weight in salt” means to be respected.

    • That’s a pretty cool fact you learned by exploring this Wonder of the Day®, Andrena! Thank you so much for sharing it with us! :-)

  13. My name is Amir from Ms. Brasdis’ 8th bell. Today I learned that if you’re worth your salt, then you deserve respect and you are valuable. I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is about video games because the hint included the words WII and X-CELLENT.

    • Way to use the clues to try and figure out tomorrow’s Wonder, Amir! We’re proud of you! We’ll all have to check back tomorrow to see if your guess was right! :-)

  14. Hey, my name is Sarah Jones from Mrs. Brasdis’ 8th bell. This is such an educational website. I learned that salt is very useful. I sure did learn something new today. Thanks for the this new information!

    • You’re welcome, Sarah! Thank YOU for leaving us a comment to let us know that you enjoy learning in Wonderopolis! It makes us super happy to hear that! :-)

  15. Hello! This is Keeshayla from Ms. Brasdis’ class bell 8. I think my class and I are worth salt because we all are respectable and valuable people.

    • We agree, Keeshayla! We appreciate how you and your classmates left us such AMAZING comments today! Your comments are worth their weight in salt to everyone here in Wonderopolis! :-)

  16. Hi, this is Chauncey and Brandon from Mrs. Brasdis’ bell 8. We learned to always respect others no matter what. We think the next wonder of the day will be about bullying.

    • We think you guys ROCK for trying to guess what tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day® will be about, Chauncey and Brandon! Thank you for also sharing something neat you learned from today’s Wonder! :-)

  17. Hi. It’s me from Ms. Brasdis’ class. I liked this wonder because it’s about how salt is valuable, like me.
    I think sugar would be tomorrow’s because today’s was salt and sugar has many uses, too.

    • That’s a really interesting way to think about what tomorrow’s Wonder will be, Antonette! We’re proud of you! We can’t wait to see tomorrow’s Wonder to learn which of our Wonder Friends was right about their guesses! :-)

  18. Hi, my name is Mackenzie. I’m from Ms. Brasdis 8th bell. I never new that salt could be so useful! That was some interesting information. I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day will be about the sun.
    Thanks Wonderopolis

    • It makes us super happy to learn that you found the information in today’s Wonder useful, Mackenzie! Thank you for letting us know, and also for visiting Wonderopolis with your class today! :-)

  19. Hi! This is Tiara from Northside Middle. I’m in Mrs. Brasdis’ Class Bell 8. I think our class is worth salt because we are respectful and smart students.

    • Hello, Tiara! We can tell you and your classmates are respectful and smart by the AWESOME comments you guys are leaving for us! You are ALL definitely worth your salt to us (and to Ms. Brasdis, too…she ROCKS!)! :-)

    • Thanks for guessing what you think tomorrow’s Wonder will be about, Keeshayla! We hope you are right…that would be one SWEET Wonder! :-)

  20. Today I learned a lot about salt, and I know all the definitions of the vocabulary words/most of them, and my favorite one of all was sodium which is another word for salt.

    • WOW! Thank you for letting us know you are already familiar with the Wonder Words from today’s Wonder of the Day®, Jasmine! We’re glad your favorite word was “sodium.” We really appreciate your comment! :-)

  21. I think my class is worth their salt because we are very smart, honored students. Oh, and by the way, I am at Northside Middle in Mrs. Brasdis’ class bell 8.

    • Hello, Danielle! Thank you so much for leaving us an AMAZING comment to let us know you stopped by this Wonder of the Day®! Shout out to all Ms. Brasdis’ students…you guys are AWESOME! :-)

  22. Hello, I am from Mrs. Brasdis’ 8th block. I really love this website. I’m glad I was able to learn things I’ve never heard before about salt. Did you know that Mali used to trade salt for gold? Thank you for letting us on your website!

    • Hi, Omarrah! Thank YOU for letting us know you love visiting Wonderopolis and that you learned some great new things today! :-)

  23. Dear Wonderopolis,
    I don’t quite get this wonder. Can you explain it to me? I think tomorrow’s wonder is about space.
    Paige ;)

    • Hi, Paige! Today’s Wonder is about salt and how, because it was so valuable long ago, people used to think it was more important than gold! You will also find out the chemical composition (what it’s made of) of salt by exploring today’s Wonder a little more. It will “season” your day with some extra learning! Thanks for being you…AWESOME! :-)

  24. That was such a cool wonder!! I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about the Wii and X-box. Or just video games in general! :-P

    • We’ll have to see about tomorrow’s Wonder, Rebecca! LOTS of Wonder Friends think it’s going to be about different things, so it will be so much fun to see who’s right! :-)

  25. WOW! I am SO proud of all of my students and their amazing comments! I appreciate your willingness to participate in and support Wonderopolis’ Wonder Year Adventure! :)

    And thanks, Wonderopolis, for choosing me to be an Ambassador. None of this could be possible without you!

    • We are super impressed with all of your students’ comments, too, Ms. Brasdis! We think they are AWESOME! We think you’re awesome, too! We’re glad you’re a Wonder Lead Ambassador for Wonder Year Adventure 2012. You are doing a GREAT job of inspiring Wonder in others! :-)

  26. You guys should put a wonder on how big is the biggest snowball? I don’t really like salt but I still think I’m worth it.

  27. I check out wonderopolis every day and I think tomorrow’s wonder is the X-Box connect and if not that than some other video game.

    • Hello, Mr. A! Thanks so much for letting us know what you think the next Wonder of the Day® will be about, and also for telling us that you visit Wonderopolis every day…that is AWESOME! :-)

  28. Thank you for all the interesting facts you have on here. I never knew that exercising games were called exergames. That’s what WE call them!

    • Hi, Omarrah! We’re so glad you stopped by Wonderopolis today and learned some cool new facts about video games! We think it’s AWESOME that you play exergames, too! Way to go! :-)

    • That’s OK, Omarrah! There are so many awesome Wonders to learn from here in Wonderopolis! We’re just glad you visited us and left us some great comments…THANKS! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Are you worth your salt?
  • What chemicals combine to form salt?
  • How many types of salt are there?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to have some fun with salt? No, we’re not making French fries…although that would be fun! Let’s try some interesting science experiments with salt.

Curious to learn more about salt crystals? With just a few simple ingredients, you can make salt water, watch it evaporate over a few days and then examine the salt crystals that form.

Will an egg float in tap water? Try it out.  Can adding salt make the egg float? Find out when you do this simple experiment.

Ever wonder why they put salt on icy roads? Follow the directions for a simple experiment to see why firsthand. You can also read a more in-depth explanation by visiting a past Wonder of the Day!


Still Wondering

Check out Science NetLinks’ Cool Idea lesson to see what happens to water and ice when a little salt gets thrown into the mix.


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Wonder What’s Next?

PS: Wii think tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day is going to be X-cellent!

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