Common salt is a mineral substance composed primarily of sodium chloride (NaCl), a chemical compound belonging to the larger class of ionic salts; salt in its natural form as a crystalline mineral is known as rock salt or halite. Salt is present in vast quantities in the sea where it is the main mineral constituent, with the open ocean having about 35 grams (1.2 oz) of solids per litre, a salinity of 3.5%. Salt is essential for animal life, and saltiness is one of the basic human tastes. The tissues of animals contain larger quantities of salt than do plant tissues; therefore the typical diets of nomads who subsist on their flocks and herds require little or no added salt, whereas cereal-based diets require supplementation. Salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous of food seasonings, and salting is an important method of food preservation.
Some of the earliest evidence of salt processing dates back to around 6,000 years ago, when people living in Romania were boiling spring water to extract the salts; a saltworks in China has been found which dates to approximately the same period. Salt was prized by the ancient Hebrews, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Hittites and the Egyptians. Salt became an important article of trade and was transported by boat across the Mediterranean Sea, along specially built salt roads, and across the Sahara in camel caravans. The scarcity and universal need for salt has led nations to go to war over salt and use it to raise tax revenues. Salt is also used in religious ceremonies and has other cultural significance.