The History of Salt

English Listening Lesson

Listening level: 5
Audio file: 2:17 min
Story length: 298 words


We consume salt every day. It keeps us alive and enhances the taste of food. Salt is cheap and plentiful. Long ago, things were different. Salt was so important, it influenced business, government and empires.

The history of salt goes back thousands of years.

People in early societies boiled ocean water to get salt. That required great effort. Although difficult to produce, it was essential for survival. Salt mixed with meat or vegetables preserved food. That is how people were able to eat during the winter months when food was not always easy to find.

The historical importance of salt can be appreciated by looking at three empires. During the Roman Empire, road networks were constructed in order to simplify transport to and from distant salt fields. Because of its high value, soldiers were paid with salt instead of money. When Rome wanted to start a war, they collected money by raising salt taxes.

Two thousand years ago in China, half of all the tax money collected by the Tang dynasty came from the sale of salt. It also played an important role in the development of modern weapons. Without saltpeter, a kind of salt, the Chinese might not have invented gunpowder.

Salt also played an important role in India when it was controlled by the British. Salt taxes and bad laws in the 1930s made people angry at the British Empire. In order to protect British companies, the government passed a law that said individual people could not make or sell salt.

People like Gandhi protested. He led a salt march that attracted 100,000 followers. The salt march helped make Gandhi an important leader.

The next time you eat food with salt, think about how that small rock has fed people, built empires and triggered social change.

More Practice

Here’s a gap fill exercise. Download the History of Salt printable worksheet (pdf file). Listen to the story and fill in the blanks.

Photo Credit

The featured image in this post comes from Peppered Jane and its use complies with the owner’s creative commons licensing terms.

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