TRAPANI PROVINCE, Sicily — Here on Sicily’s west coast, there are two main crops: olives for oil and grapes for wine. There was once a third: salt.
Most high school students learn that salt was one of the motivating factors for the growth of the Roman empire, and that words for “salary” and “salad” come from the word for salt. Salt was a fundamental element of trade, because sodium and chlorine are both essential to life and the combination is among the best preservatives and flavoring agents there is. And until relatively recently, it wasn’t easy to produce and ship, so overconsumption wasn’t an issue.
Conditions for extracting salt from seawater are near-ideal here. There is unflooded flatland next to the sea, land that isn’t great for farming; a long season that’s both warm and dry; and lots of wind for both evaporation and power.
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