The materials are published with support from donations and help from the volunteers, provided to the Centre Food Studies by the їzhakultura community. Support us on Patreon!


In June the Soledar City in the Donetsk region was heavily shelled by the Russian military. The city boasts one of the largest and unique salt mines, with a spacious chamber three hundred meters deep under the ground. Ukraine also has other salt deposits located in greater Kolomiya, Stari Soli, Kalush, and Bolekhov, as well as on the Kuyalnyk costal lake in the Odesa region and salt lakes in greater Henichesk in the Kherson region. The Drohobych saltworks which began its operation in the 12th century continue to supply salt on the Ukrainian market. In Drohobych salt is produced by evaporating the natural brine solution by steam heat. In the 19th century rock salt mining came to dominate the salt industry. Salt mines in the Donetsk region became central to the production of salt and made salt cheaper and more available.


 Life isn’t bad when you have bread, especially when you have salt

– this is how Ukrainians describe the good life when the basic needs are covered. Today when the Soledar rock salt mines in the Donetsk region have halted salt production, Ukrainians have come to realise the true value of salt. Now, we cannot even imagine the street cleaners spreading rock salt on the pavement to melt snow. Many Ukrainians are stashing away salt and want to know how much they really need? While the locally produced rock salt is still unavailable, many also consider switching to more exotic substitutes like pink Himalayan salt. Let’s consider the options together with Darka Ozerna.


Darka Ozerna is a heath advocate with background in biology. Ozerna has authored a number of books: “To be OK. Important components of mental health” (Yakaboo Publishing, 2020), “You can do it! Seven components of a healthy lifestyle” (Yakaboo Publishing, 2020), and “A book for adults. How to be an adult without getting old” (Yakaboo Publishing, 2021). 


When the body craves salty foods

Perception of taste is vitally important. A pleasant taste is a signal that what we are eating will be good for us, and unpleasant taste can warn that we may be about to swallow something toxic. 

For example, various members of the feline family from domestic cats to lions and tigers do not perceive sweetness. The felines have a broken gene which prevents their taste buds from developing a preference for sweetness. As a result, the predators are absolutely impartial to sweet foods which can cause damage to their teeth. On the other hand, hominins and modern humans are genetically programmed to enjoy sweet foods. We are seeking fast carbs which are used to energise a large human brain, even at the cost of developing tooth decay. 

In most vertebrates and especially the primates and humans the sense of taste followed their evolutionary path. Basically, only those individuals survived who had a well-developed taste for bitterness which signalled about something potentially toxic. At the same time, humans widely differ in their sensitivity to bitterness, as a result we are able to differentiate between the bitter taste of wormwood and dark chocolate, the tase of coffee and broccoli, besides some of these foods we might actually enjoy. If all bitter foods were toxic and unpleasant, no one would be able to enjoy absinthe and Turkish coffee. In some people the taste bud receptors for bitterness are not functioning properly. As a result, they cannot really appreciate the bitter taste of broccoli. And even as children they usually enjoy their greens. We all know someone like that. 

So, what do genes and evolution have to do with anything? Because the same goes for the salty foods. If salt was really toxic for our bodies, we would have been able to recognise it right away and avoid it like the plaque. If it was of no significance, we wouldn’t be able to taste salt in sweat and blood. But it’s not the case. The less salt we consume, the more sensitive we become to the product. Young children are fascinated first by sweet stuffs and then by salty foods. Moreover, there are salt consumption guidelines for children from the age of one, which means even infants require salt. 

Why do we find salty foods pleasant? Because we need sodium and chloride – the two components of kitchen salt. The ions in salt help us maintain a healthy blood pressure and produce stomach acid. Even the normal saline used to dilute drugs is nothing more than a 0.9 % solution of purified table salt. So, natrium chloride is virally important. But it has to be carefully measured. 


How much salt do we really need?

An adult requires five grams of salt per day, which is approximately one non-heaped teaspoon. But when using more scientific terminology, instead of a teaspoon of salt we are talking about 2,300 mg of sodium which is contained in baking soda; as well as sodium glutamate which is added to seasoning powder to give food products chicken taste; and sodium nitrate, an additive to cured meat, ham, and bacon which creates a special standard taste. So, if you do not use salt in cooking, it does not mean that you are not consuming any salt at all. 

Also, seasoning with salt is the principal source of sodium and this is where most salt is used. Today very little salt is used in a standard household, even if you use generous amounts of salt on your food. Most salt in a household is used as preservative, like pickling food to prepare it for long storage and making preserves, which is much less popular compared to what it used to be seventy years ago. Significant amounts of salt are used in cooking when salt is added to large quantities of water.  Water seasoned with salt adds more taste to pasta and boiled potatoes, as it boils at a higher temperature and acts somewhat differently compared to fresh water.

It's difficult to say how much sodium we use in our diet, which includes home cooked meals, store bought products, vegetables and meat. In Ukraine, it is not obligatory for manufacturers to indicate the sodium content to indicate sodium content on the packaging, the way it’s done in the US, for example.



Less salt - lower blood pressure

Our salt shakers are not the only source sodium. This is the problem with excessive salt consumption which results in high blood pressure. The public health message is to use iodised salt and to reduce salt intake or the public heath message is iodized salt consumption and total salt intake reduction during meals by using alternative spices as taste enhancers. Salt has shot up in price in the country, and I suspect more Ukrainians will be reporting lower blood pressure. Less salt means lower blood pressure, right?

Not really. It’s wrong to believe that we are generously seasoning our food with salt only because it’s cheap and now when the salt prices increased several fold it’s going to make people change and the health of the nation will improve. Drastic reduction of salt intake does not guarantee lower blood pressure. It’s all because our blood pressure is a result of a combination of factors, which includes effective circulation of the blood volume throughout the body, quantity of different ions, elasticity of the arteries, body weight, age, and the beverages we prefer. It’s not just about putting salt on a boiled egg and seasoning fresh vegetables with salt.  

Here are some recommendation of salt intake and healthy blood pressure maintenance:

• Know your blood pressure. If you are old enough to be a fan of the Santa Barbara TV series, it’s time to get a blood pressure monitor. There is some truth behind the joke, the older we get, the more difficult it becomes for our body to maintain the sodium and fluid balance. Even if we are unaware of it. So, it’s recommended to regularly check your blood pressure and follow doctor’s advice which might include losing weight, taking blood pressure medication, and the occasional diuretic drugs. 

• Don’t forget to take your prescription meds. If you have been prescribed blood pressure medication, take it daily regardless of your general condition. Even some of the least expensive cardiovascular drugs are long acting and can have a positive therapeutic effect after the concentration of drugs in the body is sufficient. Naturally, prevention is better than cure and blood pressure medication should be taken on a daily basis and not when you have to manage acute symptoms of a heart attack. 

• Consume less sodium rich products, like cured meats, white bread, salted fish, crackers, and crisps.  I avoid this kind of stuff primary due to weight management considerations. Moreover, they've got pretty much added value; so it's not only about weight and pressure management, but expences management as well.

• Eat more potassium rich foods. To maintain a healthy blood pressure, it’s important not to just reduce sodium intake but to increase the intake of potassium rich products. The list includes baked potatoes, bananas, nettle, scallions, and leeks. Remember, if you are boiling potatoes without skins, water completely absorbs potassium. There is no need to munch on green onions seasoned with salt with a generous helping of heavy cream. Just add them to soup or borshch.

• Use salt substitutes which contain potassium chloride. There is also salt with reduced sodium content, it’s one quarter potassium chloride. Perhaps, you will need greater quantities of this salt for cooking, till you are able to taste the salt. But still there will be less sodium and more potassium.

• Use alternative spices as taste enhancers; go beyond salt, pepper, and bay leaves (these spices had been the only available ones under Soviet occupation, and  many people in Ukraine still stick to them). Remember that garlic salt and Svanetian salt is also high in sodium content though it does have some added spices. The same goes for Himalayan and sea salt. These salts contain some potentially harmful or even radioactive minerals.


Conservatism and conserves 

We, the Ukrainians, love joking and creating memes about preserves, conserves, and the rituals revolving around stacking up for the winter, for the most part these jokes are about the older generations of Ukrainians. Just recently a jar of tomatoes was used by a Ukrainian woman against a drone. A household uses most of its salt supply in the season for making preserves. Recipes for mixed pickled vegetables in marinade often include salt, sugar, vinegar, and sometimes oil, the ingredients are added to enhance the taste and kill off the bacteria. Salt content in the marinade is between 2 to 3 percent, and sugar with vinegar work together to conceal the saltiness. Does not seem much, right? However, these figures show that one hundred grams of pickles contains at least 2 grams of salt, which includes 800 milligrams of sodium. Let’s not forget that the daily recommended sodium intake for an adult is 2,300 milligrams. So, pickled vegetables are a rich source of excess sodium, not counting the expenditure on salt, electricity, and water needed to thoroughly clean the jars for the preserves. 

All of the Ukrainian fans of the Nizhyn cucumber (read about the rise and fall of the Nizhyn cucumber in an article “Curriculum vitae of the Nizhyn cucumber” by Maksym Potapenko) must not forget – all of the nutrients and vitamins are absorbed by the marinade and replaced by salt inside the vegetable. This is the essence of the diffusion process, concentration of all elements in a closed-loop system reaches its equilibrium. Pickled vegetables are rich only in fibre, they contain no other nutrients. Basically, there are much better fiber souces, than pickles: dried tomatoes, apples, pears and whole grain bread.

It does not at all meant that pickles should be cancelled. Let’s just keep in mind that it’s a delicacy, not a daily staple, and these products should be enjoyed in small quantities and with care. If you are overwhelmed by large quantities of harvested fruit and veg, try dehydrating them, it’s less popular but more effective. It’s better to sterilise vegetable mixes inside jars, instead of drowning them in tons of salt and sugar and hoping that the harmful bacteria are going to perish. If it's too much salt or sugar for bacteria to survive, it might kill a human as well. 


Like putting salt on a wound

If you sprinkle some salt on meat or sliced vegetables, tiny water drops will form around the salt grains. The salt content inside the cells and outside of them has to reach a balance, this is the law of nature. It means that salt extracts water and dehydrates the cells. Because of this unique ability salt, together with honey and sugar is used as preservative. These products dehydrate food stuff as well as any other living thing, so that even the most virulent bacteria and fungi die. Also, dehydrated products weigh less, which makes them more suitable for traveling. 

Curing meat with salt, curing salo, fish, using salt in making soft cheese, pickled cheese, and butter was one of the traditional methods of preparing food for long storage when cold storage was available only during the winter months and in cellars and some food products were seasonal. Cured meat and fish were kept in brine, then drained and cooked as usual. By the way, in Portugal, salted codfish still is a popular product available on the market, and it’s cooked the same way.

While I was anxiously waiting for the Russians to invade from the north of Ukraine and east of the country, I cured different types of meat and salo. For the first several days the formed liquid is drained, then the meat is cured inside the refrigerator. The meat can be consumed without pre-soaking. It’s a good recipe, an easy and efficient way of preserving meat. It’s also safe, because I am able to write these words and the meat is gone. It’s a traditional Ukrainian recipe of curing meat withou a brine. 

If you have a fridge and don’t plan on following the Ukrainian folk traditions of curing fresh meat after St. Peter's Fast, there is no need to hoard salt. Now it’s different from what our ancestors had to be doing. However, it seems that a habit of stacking up with salt and matches is much stronger than Ukrainian traditions for curing meat, fish, and salo. Even though nowadays the older generation of Ukrainians continue to keep kilos of fresh meat in the freezer, probably affected by the Soviet history of food shortages. But when your borough is shelled by the Russians, the power lines are cut and you don’t have any running water, frozen meet in the freezer is not going to save you from hunger.

Seems like the only conclusion we can draw from broken salt supply chain is that Ukraine is under Russian attack. There is no need to cut down on salt now. But it’s always high time to critically review your personal food preferences, culinary traditions, and cooking methods. 



Photo by Oksana Sybydlo