Saturday, January 7, 2012

Salt - An investment opportunity or another con?

Salt is such an important part of our lives. Wars have been fought, lives have been lost, and blood has been spilt!! Our very own Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi aka Bapu aka Mahatma Gandhi, used salt as a symbol of protest and his march to Dandi is of truly great importance in India’s freedom.

Strictly speaking, `salt’ is a chemical term for a substance produced by the reaction of an acid with a base. There are many salts, many of which are edible and many of which are mixed. Of course you must know that the salt we eat is almost always Sodium Chloride or NaCl, which actually tastes salty. Other salts, even if they contribute not so pleasant bitter or sour tastes, may be edible and may be of value to the human diet.

It’s one ingredient that is universally accepted as being the enhancer of flavour in food. Yes salt enhances the existing flavours. Sugar does not necessarily do so. Sugar changes the flavour as do many other ingredients. All our food has salt, sometime too much, sometime unhealthily too much, sometimes we eat so much of it that it becomes unhealthy. Why, simply because we love the taste of salt. Salt is important as a preservative too. Think about the times without refrigerators. Medically, we need salt to survive. An adult’s body contains about 250 grams of salt which is continuously being lost and replenished. It’s true that we do consume much more than we need but, happily, our bodies are capable of excreting salt. Sometimes, we have a problem in getting rid of excess salt. High blood pressure, in many cases [but not by any means all] can be controlled by reducing our salt intake.

I remember when I was quite young, the kitchen always had two salt containers. One was a porcelain jar with a lid in which non refined or coarse salt was kept. This was used in cooking. This was called `jada namak’. During the monsoons in Bombay this salt used to absorb so much water that it was quite useless. The other jar contained table salt. This was refined and used, as the name suggests, on the table to salt your food. At some point our collective Nanny i.e. the Government of India decreed that all of us were very unhealthy as coarse salt did not contain Iodine in adequate quantities. The result was that coarse salt became virtually outlawed  and all that is available is table salt which has to be iodised. Buying coarse salt today is fairly difficult.

Iodising salt necessarily meant that the poor salt worker toiling in the hot sun was now unable to sell salt in the open market. All that would happen was that corporate would buy the salt, process it and sell it to us, neatly packaged, wonderfully advertised, at huge profit. Such is life with our Nanny in charge. I finally gave up buying coarse salt and started to use Iodised salt a few years ago.

A few days ago we were running out of salt so HRH the Queen of Kutch, (incidentally a lot of our salt in India comes from Kutch), in a rush, bought Low Sodium Iodised Salt. Now starts the point of this blog!

1 Kg of normal salt costs Rs 14/-. 1 Kg of Low Sodium Salt costs Rs 21/- which is 50% more than normal salt. When using the Low Sodium Salt, I found that it did not dissolve as easily as normal table salt and it left a residue. Furthermore I found that on adding this Low Sodium Salt to water, the water becomes and then remains cloudy. I was pretty upset and decided to probe further which is when I discovered the huge difference in price. Obviously, there is a large marketing campaign backed by cute advertising to sell you and me this Low Sodium Salt which will help us all control out blood pressure. Frankly, finally getting Kisan Baburao Hazare off our TV screens has reduced my blood pressure and it cost me nothing.

So armed with my camera I set out to see what the difference between Low Sodium Salt and normal salt really was and why you should pay 50% more for it.

Firstly, the Low Sodium Salt packets say, very craftily, that “Salt Plus has less sodium. Diets low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure.” Note the use of the word “may”. Then they say that the Low Sodium Salt has 15% less sodium. Now how much is 15% in a teaspoon of salt? Literally, a pinch. Why not save the 5 bucks that you pay for Low Sodium Salt and just tell your cook to add a bit less salt? That is just too simple and logical I guess.

Looking at the ingredient list on a packet of salt. Yes, for f**ks sake salt has a list of ingredients, what is the world coming to? Low Sodium Salt has two additional ingredients, namely, Potassium Chloride and Calcium Carbonate. Now, if my school chemistry is to be relied upon, is Calcium Carbonate not blackboard chalk? Yes it is. Would you eat it? Would you have eaten it when in school? No. Then why eat it when you are rich and leading a lifestyle to envy? Yuck. Now you know why when you add Low Sodium Salt to water it leaves a residue and makes your water cloudy. You are eating f***ing blackboard chalk!! If your young son tried to eat blackboard chalk you would send him to the corner as punishment and here is your caring wife serving you blackboard chalk in your fragrant Mutton Dum Biryani and Onion Raita! I say send her to the corner if you dare.

After all this ranting, why is salt a good investment opportunity. It’s not the extra Rs 7/- that you pay for Low Sodium Salt, but think of how Marico, Tata Chemicals and ITC are collecting Rs 7/- from each one of us to give us chalk. They must be laughing all the way to the bank. Despite the plummeting stock market have you seen the prices of an ITC, Maroco or Tata Chemicals share? October 2008 was the time the Global meltdown happened, Lehman Brothers vaporised and there was only gloom and doom.Today the markets are not much better. India's growth rate is a poor 7% and falling. Stock markets have melted, the dollar is soaring and what do we have?

Price 29 October 2008
Price today
Rs. 79
After 1:1 Bonus Rs 200 i.e. Rs 400
Rs 53
Rs 153
Tata Chem
Rs 165
Rs 320

All this on the back of Low Sodium Salt? I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine. Don’t say I did not tell you to buy shares in companies making salt.

The share prices from 29th October 2008 to today are as different as chalk and cheese.

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