Why Was Salt an Important Trade in Ancient Times?

Salt has been an important commodity throughout history and was considered as valuable as gold in ancient times. In this article, we will explore the reasons why salt was so important in ancient times and its significance in trade.

The Importance of Salt

Salt is a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride. It is essential for human survival as it helps regulate the body’s fluid balance, aid in muscle and nerve function, and maintain proper blood pressure levels. However, in ancient times, salt was not just valued for its health benefits but also for its economic and cultural importance.

Preservation of Food

One of the primary reasons why salt was so valuable in ancient times was due to its ability to preserve food. Before refrigeration, people had to rely on other methods to keep their food from spoiling. Salt was one such method that prevented meat, fish, and vegetables from rotting by inhibiting the growth of bacteria.

Flavor Enhancer

In addition to preserving food, salt has also been used as a flavor enhancer for centuries. It enhances the taste of food by stimulating certain taste buds on our tongue. The Greeks even referred to salt as “white gold” due to its ability to make even the simplest dish taste better.

Medical Uses

Salt was also used for medicinal purposes in ancient times. It was believed that salt had healing properties that could cure various ailments such as sore throats, digestive problems, and even skin conditions.

Salt Trade Routes

Salt mining began over 8,000 years ago and quickly became a lucrative business in many regions around the world. The earliest evidence of long-distance salt trade dates back to 3000 BCE when sea salt from India was traded with Sumerians in Mesopotamia.

As civilizations developed, so did their demand for salt. The ancient Egyptians, for example, used salt in the mummification process, while the Chinese used salt to preserve fish and meat. As a result, salt became a valuable commodity that was traded across vast distances.

Routes of Salt Trade

The Salt Road was an important trade route that connected China to the Mediterranean region. This 4,000-mile-long road was used to transport goods such as silk, spices, and of course, salt.

Another famous salt trade route was the Trans-Saharan trade route that connected West Africa to North Africa and the Mediterranean. The Berbers were known for their expertise in navigating this harsh terrain and were responsible for transporting salt from the mines of Taoudenni in Mali to Timbuktu.


In conclusion, salt played a significant role in ancient times due to its ability to preserve food, enhance flavor, and its medicinal uses. Its importance led to the development of extensive trade routes that allowed for the exchange of goods across vast distances. Today, we take salt for granted as it is readily available everywhere but it’s worth remembering how valuable it once was and how it shaped our history.