A Salty Predicament

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I came from a culture that loves salt. Growing up in Manila I came to like salted peanuts, salted dried fish, dish with salted black beans (tausi), saltine crackers, and of course salted eggs.

Besides the table salt, any Filipino household have patis (fish sauce), bagoong (seafood paste), and toyo (soy sauce) – all of these are very salty condiments, catering to the salt-loving taste of the Filipinos.

Even our beloved and iconic bread, is called pan de sal, which literally means salt bread. Though, I’m not sure why it was called that, because it taste slightly sweet rather than salty.

I even listened to a Filipino folk rock band, Asin, which means salt in Tagalog, when I was growing up, and have come to love them through the years. I still play their songs once in while in my iPod.

Now that I have lived in the US for almost 20 years, and experienced many bitterly cold winters, I have known one use of salt that many of my kababayan in the tropical Philippines will never think of. Where I am now, I got used to salted highways and salted walkways. Yes, we put salt in our roads!

With snow, sleet and freezing rain during winter, our roads can get icy and become dangerously slippery. Sprinkling salt on the roads can help melt the ice by lowering its freezing point. A 10% salt solution freezes at 20 F (-6 C), instead of 32 F (0 C). A 20% solution freezes at 2 F (-16 C).


The sprinkled salt can be in the form of rock salt or salt brine, which is a salt solution. Salt brine is said to be better as it is in liquid form and thus work immediately when applied and can be more effective in lower temperatures. However when the temperature approaches 0 degree F or below, even salt brine can be ineffective. Unfortunately, where I live, it is not unusual for the mercury to drop lower than 0 F.

Here in Iowa, our roads are not on low-salt diet. In fact it is the opposite. This winter, the Iowa Department of Transportation has stockpiled approximately 230,000 tons of salt and nearly 2.5 million gallons of salt brine. Though a few winters ago, during a very snowy season, our transportation department spread more than 300,000 tons of salt in our roadways. That was one salty winter!

Last weekend, we invited some friends to come into our house. But before that evening, we had some drizzle followed by a rapidly dropping temperature. To prevent our visitors from slipping and falling (unless they brought their ice skates), my son and I sprinkled rock salt in our driveway and walkway.  I could have used patis or bagoong, which are technically salt brines, but I don’t think my guests, who are non-Filipinos, would have appreciated the smell.

With all the tons of salt thrown in our roads and sidewalks, besides wrecking havoc in our cars, some are concerned that it can also harm the environment. In one study in Minnesota, it was found that 70% of the salt applied on roads stays within the region’s watershed and can make the groundwater salty. But that is another topic on its own.

But with the real perils of winter driving, I prefer the salty roads and driveways rather than slipping and sliding, or falling into a ditch. And if I happen to drop a boiled egg and it rolled in my driveway? Voila, I have a salted egg!

(*photo from here)

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