Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 15, 2022


During our recent trip to Wales, husband Art was frustrated by his inability to find molasses. When he asked a grocery-store stocker where it might be found, she looked at him blankly and answered she had never heard of it.

Another shopper overheard the exchange and said, "Molasses? They don't have it here."

So much for Art's plan to make his signature baked beans.

Then, as he was checking out, the same customer appeared.

"It came to me after we separated. Here, molasses is called dark treacle."

All three were English speakers, but a culture-based difference in what something is called threw a temporary monkey wrench into Art�s plans.

A somewhat similar humorous event occurred a few days later. Chatting with our friend and temporary landlord Paul, Art mentioned he was a fan of mincemeat, something easily found in Britain, but difficult to find in the United States, despite it once being quite common.

Paul was surprised to learn of its rarity, and he subsequently repeated Art's words at his favorite pub. There, too, people found it hard to believe.

It was all a misunderstanding.

Ground beef - what we usually call hamburger - is called mince in Britain. No wonder Paul and his friends were finding it difficult to believe that his renters from the land of steaks and barbecues could rarely find ground beef at home!

During the same trip, Art, his daughter Karen and granddaughter Katrina were talking when I overheard him use the term "pedal pushers." These calf-length trousers were made for women to keep the bottoms from catching in bicycle chains, prompting the name. They're now generally called capri pants. But Katrina had never heard pedal pushers and found it hilarious.

Later, we ran into a far more subtle type of "misunderstanding" - one that is far more difficult to clear up and is widely exploited.

Salt, the common condiment found on the grocery store shelf and the dinner table, is the chemical sodium chloride. When daughter Katie and her hubby Matt were with us, they had bought a sea-salt sampler - salt extracted from sea water. Later, while Art was doing some searching, he discovered the company was not far from us and offered tours. Off we headed to Anglesey, an island off the northwest coast of Wales, for a company visit.

The salt, which it sells all over the world, is extracted by an exceedingly simple method. Gas burners create heat that is pumped into trays containing sea water. The water evaporates, leaving the salt behind to be "harvested."

But there is a problem. Salt at the local grocery store costs 29 cents per pound, while the sea salt company was charging a whopping $14.57 per pound - about 50 times more. In a world governed by fact-based economics, this company's business is doomed. Yet it has 30 employees and has been in operation for some time. How can this be?

If potential buyers are convinced the product is better - more healthy, has a unique taste or possesses some other desirable characteristic - they may choose the wildly more-expensive alternative.

One way of doing this is to associate the product with a word or words people identify as being desirable. The comapny's advertising stresses that the product is "pure sea salt" and, judging from the tour, that is true. But we humans tend to associate "pure" with "good." Most have a similar positive feeling about the word "sea."

Most salt is mined as a rock, much like iron ore or coal, and then processed to remove any adulterating chemicals. In fact, Hutchinson, Kansas - about an hour and a half from our home - has a large salt mining operation centered in one of the world's largest deposits of rock salt.

Both mined and sea-derived salt are ground to produce a consistent size. Both are sodium chloride and have residual amounts of other minerals in them. The mined version is processed to remove these. So if the word "pure" refers to which product is the closest to being only the real deal, the mined one is the likely winner.

Reputable medical sites, such as medicalnewstoday.com or mayoclinichealthsystem.org, make it clear sea salt has zero health advantages over its mined sister.

Furthermore, most mined salt has had iodine added to address the iodine insufficiency found in much of the world's foods. A 2013 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that the addition of iodine to table salt, which companies such as Morton began in the 1920s, was responsible for raising IQs by 15 points in iodine-deficient areas such as the Great Lakes region of the United States.

Such salt only contains 0.0045 percent iodine - not enough to impact taste or any food-making operation such as pickling. So from a strictly fact-based perspective, the use of "pure sea salt" may actually put a person's health at risk while offering no benefits.

Other companies in the sea-salt business are also succeeding. In a 2010 interview with National Public Radio, Mark Kurlansky, author of the book "Salt: A world history," said, "Basically, this is all marketing ... sea sounds a lot better than rock."

A better product may bring customers, but as our salt adventure highlights, other ways also work. Associating a product with words we respond positively to - pure, natural, sea - will help. Describing competing products with words we have negative feelings about - chemicals, despite everything being made of chemicals - also helps.

It worked on me! I bought a small wooden plaque with the Swedish quote: "The cure for anything is saltwater - sweat, tears or the sea," along with a few packets of flavored sea-harvested salt.

We tend to think of misunderstandings as occurring between people, as in those earlier situations involving molasses and mince. But it's also quite possible to confuse ourselves. Sometimes our understanding has been salted with confusion, perhaps accidental and some, well, not so much.

Top (l-r): Part of the Menai Strait - the saltwater source; Gloria, Katrina, Karen and Art pause midway through the tour for a photo. Bottom (l-r): gas-fueled heaters hang above trays filled with saltwater. The heat evaporates the water, leaving the salt behind. Harvested mounds of salt sit in trays nearby. The evaporation process was not in operation at the time of the photo. If it had been, the trays with sea water would have been directly below each heater; Gloria holds a purchased salt sampler.

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