Salty Sweet

10/16/2009 03:32 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last year, a study in Israel announced babies born with low sodium are more likely to crave salt and consume more sodium throughout their life. However, when my boyfriend recently accused me of being "salty," I had a sneaking suspicion he wasn't referring to my natal body composition. Recently transplanted to New York and conscious of my antiquated vernacular, I looked up my denominator. Turns out my lexicon lover wasn't whispering sweet nothings.

According to, salty's primary definition is "pissed, upset." The next most popular definition: "Upset, embarrassed or indignant as a result of humiliation or wrong-doing by another person. Salty was most often heard in Chicago up to about the mid-nineties." Third (and my personal favorite): "A word originating in Philadelphia generally meaning that you just got played, or are looking stupid, either because of something you did, or something that was done to you. "

With Valentine's Day approaching -- the annual holiday devoted to calculated displays of affection as cloyingly sweet as the overpriced bonbons so eagerly consumed -- I decided to learn more about salt and attempt to embrace my epithet.

Salt is vital to human life. I'm not just talking about dashing salt on food to make it tasty (though imagining a life of saltless popcorn or mashed potatoes conjures unpalatable images of cardboard). The Salt Institute reports that salt makes up .28% of the human body by weight. Sodium is one of the electrolytes advertised in sports drinks. Too little sodium in the body leads to dehydration, but over-consumption may increase the risk for more serious health problems like high blood pressure and can cause bloated fingers and toes. (Note to self: do not eat Chinese food the day before skinny jean shopping.)

Humans have understood the value of salt from time immemorial. Mark Kurlansky's book, Salt: A World History, opens in China where people harvested salt in 6000 BC. Salt had a cameo in the Bible: lesson learned -- never look back. (Though, too bad Lot didn't bring his damned wife with him.) Salt was so valuable that spilling it meant you were susceptible to demons -- hence the sacrificial dash over the shoulder.

In Salt: Grain of Life, Pierre Laszlo contends salt is responsible for the Roman's system of payment (and the word "salary"), as well as the domestication of the camel, the Dutch revolt against the Spanish and Ghandhi's resistance to the British. Salt is a big business. The American Medical Association and salt lobbyists recently went to war over the question of whether the FDA should consider salt a food additive. While the only wars so far waged on behalf of the condiment have been nonviolent, it is ironic that one of most well known acronyms from the Cold War is SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks).

In light of this winter's flurries, what would we do without our dependable salt-spraying dumptrucks? The owner of the Soho restaurant Salt found it fitting to pay homage to the ubiquitous spice because of her restaurant's cross-cultural menu and communal seating. And an offshoot, Salt Bar, recently opened -- a sign that salt is undoubtedly an ingredient in the recipe for success.

Importance of salt established, nothing's better than the original salt-and-pepper combo. Correction: Salt-N-Pepa. Yes, I was raised in the sheltered South, but I also had cable and an older sister. Thanks to the Misses Salt Pepper, we not only talked about sex, but learned it ain't nuthin' but a she-thing. (Taking those lyrics to heart is much more liberating than burning bras.)

So perhaps my valentine was born a low-salt baby -- he prefers pretzels to praline and pistachios to peanut butter cups. Fortunately for me, my anatomical ratio is less sugar than spice. With Morton's salt girl as my inspiration, I can't wait to whip up a Valentine's Day dessert as salty as me. Perhaps President Obama's favorite -- salted caramels. Eat your heart out Betty Crocker.