Taoudenni salt

Ark of taste
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Caravans of camels in Mali – normally quite large for security purposes – transported salt from the desert mines to the large cities; for centuries these azalaï (in the Tuareg language) were sources of wealth and survival. There is evidence of these routes from the first centuries of the last millennium, and in the twelfth century the salt that was transported from southern Morocco towards the Sahel was traded, for the same weight, with gold that arrived from the mines of the Mali and Songhai empires. In more recent history, a slave could be bought with a block of salt as big as the person’s foot.
Even today salt has an important role in society, especially as it comes from areas in which no alternative production possibilities exist, and this product still has its ancient advantages regarding transportation and commerce.
In contrast to salt production underway in other areas of Western Africa, in which the product is gathered from various sized pools where salt water has evaporated, in Taoudenni the salt is extracted from a mine that is just under ten meters deep, found in a valley that used to be covered by a salt lake. In this mine, still today, teams of experts extract huge blocks of salt which, once brought to the surface, are then cut into smaller pieces that are then transported on the camel caravans.

The salt is then taken to Timbuktu where it is sold to traders who send it, for the most part, to Mopti, one of the most important port cities for business with all of the cities that are found along the Niger River. Here the slabs of salt are boarded onto long, thin pinasses; these agile boats that are pushed along from outside the craft are able to reach even the smallest towns that have no real port activity. In Mopti every product has its place: despite an apparent general chaos, the salt slabs are kept separated from the vegetables, fish and other goods for trade.

In the countries of Western Africa, salt is an essential element that is ever present in daily cuisine. Indeed, it is one of the most important tools for physiological defense, especially in rural areas where the diet is based mainly on grains and legumes and has a dearth of animal and dairy products. The organic loss of water from the human body results in a continuous depletion of salt levels that must be replaced in some way every day. In many African areas, especially in western and sub-saharan areas where salt has always played a considerable economic role, this product has significantly contributed to the development of alternative methods of conserving food, especially fish, meat and spices.

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