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An Essential Mineral


After eight days in Israel, a country full of fascinating features,traveling from the Western Wall in ancient Jerusalem to Hamat Gader, where hot springs and alligators are your only cares, I didn't think anything could ever astound me again.

That was until I saw the Dead Sea.I don't think I will ever forget the drive in our van going from Masada to the Dead Sea. I remember very well driving down that mountain and looking at the sea below. There were signs written in three languages -- Hebrew, Arabic, and English -- all along the way. They said 200 meters above sea level...100 meters above sea level...sea level...100 meters below sea level...200 meters below sea level, all the way down to 400 meters below sea level.


That wasn't the only thing that occurred that day which was unforgettable. After we, my family and I, arrived at the Dead Sea, we went to a nearby restaurant. After having a small snack consisting of bourekas and a drink of water, we got ready to go into the unrealistically hot water. Stepping into the Dead Sea was like stepping into a hot cup of tea. The average air temperature is 102ºF, even in the heart of the winter, and the water temperature reflects this heat.

When we were only up to our knees in the sea, we had trouble keeping our feet down. They would still float up. It was like trying to keep a helium balloon on the ground; if you let the balloon go, it would rise up. When we were into the water up to our waist, we just let go and floated freely.

The Dead Sea is one of the only seas where virtually nothing -- plants or animals -- can live. This is because it is so salty. The Dead Sea, at 1,292 feet (394 meters) below sea level, is the lowest point on Earth. However, this has nothing to do with why it is so salty. The high salinity level is caused by the increasing evaporation rate.

Though seawater has a lot of salt, it has a number of other elements, too. "At least 72 elements are found in the seawater," said Martina Moran, a receptionist at the Salt Institute, in an e-mail interview. All of Earth's natural elements occur in the sea.

Scientists don't yet have a full understanding of why the ocean is so salty, even though they have been studying it for over a century. All they know is that salt occurs naturally. However, there are many theories why the ocean became this way. One is that, at the beginning of the world, storms, lightning, and rain created sea water that way. Some people believe that it began with the big bang theory.

I have never thought of salt as valuable. It just has always been there. After I did a little research, however, I realized that salt isn't just "salt." Without salt, we wouldn't be able to survive. Human blood has salt, tears have salt, and body cells cannot function without salt because it helps us cry and maintain nerve function. One quote that proves this is: "A civilized life is impossible without salt." This was said by Pliny the Elder, a Roman writer, during the Middle Ages.


Common salt is called sodium chloride, or NaCl. These two elements are on the Periodic Table of Elements. The crystals come in the form of cubes. Under a magnifying glass,table salt looks like a bunch of tiny cubes, all combined together. Salt in its pure form can vary from clear to white.

Salt's source is brine from seas, salt lakes, and other bodies of water. Even the underground sources come from brine. Salt found underground is formed by the evaporation of river bodies and inland seas years ago.

The use of salt apparently began way before there was any reported record keeping. As far back as 2,700 BC, historian shave found writings about salt published in China. The writings made up probably the first-known treatise on pharmacology. The earliest recordings show that salt was almost universally sought after by man.

I cooked water from the Atlantic Ocean and water from the Dead Sea to make it evaporate so I could see the salt crystals. There were 473 ml of each (16 oz). The Atlantic Ocean water took 10 minutes to evaporate. As I was watching it evaporate, it started to bubble. There were little bubbles of salt all over my stove. When it was done, I put the salt in a bowl. There was approximately one tablespoon and a half a teaspoon of salt. The salt tasted very bitter, compared to table salt. The Atlantic Ocean salt looked clearer than table salt. The Atlantic Ocean salt was also finer than the table salt.

Author examining various salt crystals

The Dead Sea salt was very captivating when I evaporated it. It took about 50 minutes to evaporate 473 ml of water. Just as the Atlantic Ocean water did, the Dead Sea water bubbled all over my stove. When there was a little bit of water left, I started to stir it. I took some of the salt from the pot and put it on a spoon and then put it into a different bowl. The salt would form a layer on top and bubble underneath. Taking the layer off was like peeling wax off something. As I looked at the salt in the pot, I could see that it looked exactly like glaze on a doughnut. There was more than a cup of Dead Sea salt. It was very hard and stayed hot for a long time. The Dead Sea salt tasted even more bitter than the Atlantic Ocean salt. The Atlantic Ocean salt and Dead Sea salt were the same whitish color, however. I was fascinated by the differences in salt between the Dead Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Dead Sea and the surrounding area are a great example of the importance of salt. I went to visit it as a routine part of our vacation, not thinking much about why the Dead Sea was so famous, and left understanding so much more. I was awestruck at how different two types of salt can be. Now I realize how valuable salt is. The next time I want salt at the dinner table, I'll ask, "Can you pass the sodium chloride, please?"



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