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A salt formation at Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/__piq/2064297906/sizes/z/in/photolist-49q4Rd-49kZNk-61hFYx-8nDhP8-8nDi3r-5oZn33-j3dK-9mtQJn-9zYDfq-ufiVB-4iv4TC-4ir13M-zUmTX-8ksEg8-dwDNQi-dG4ffo-4kcfAZ-4eAFb-9ABV55-4bxMaq-5mQaz2-9kVkEx-9kYo4S-9kYvdm-9kYrF7-99fghd-5tW8C3-5p5uct-a6pu9w-PNzYK-dG5EuG-2d2v2-8Hgj8V-7exijk-eadSEq-87LdgY-87Lcbh-87GYu6-4kVvaX-8nGsbA-5AFqsv-9kVp9v-87LctE/">notphilatall</a>, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
A salt formation at Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. Photo: notphilatall, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

What's the deal with salt?

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It's a delicious flavor, for humans and deer alike...but it's also so much more.

There's just something special about salt, a naturally occurring mineral that humans and many animals crave. Found naturally in its crystalline solid form sea water and rock deposits left behind by ancient oceans, this chemical compound is among those that many of our cells need to survive.

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The sodium in salt is actually what our bodies are after. Accordingly, we have a built-in craving for salt coded into our DNA. Our bodies do not naturally create sodium, so we must seek it from different sources. For most carnivorous animals, this is not as much of a problem, as salt and other nutrients are supplied in their diet of other animals with salt in their flesh and blood.

For herbivores and vegetarians, however, because plants do not create or contain salt in any meaningful concentrations, this necessary input must come from elsewhere. This explains why sometimes animals and humans, especially vegetarians, often crave salt.

For centuries, humans have coveted salt and traded it as a commodity. It turns out we are not alone. Many animals including butterflies also trade salt: According to one Cornell University study, males will collect and bring salt to their salt-craving female partners while they are laying eggs. So be sure to take a moment to appreciate the complex nature of this life-sustaining compound next time you reach across the table for the salt shaker!

Hear Martha Foley's full (and salty!) conversation with Dr. Curt Stager.

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