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Italian word of the day: 'Salato'

Elaine Allaby
Elaine Allaby - [email protected]
Italian word of the day: 'Salato'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Do you ever find your restaurant bill a little... salty?


Salato/a/i/e is a word you'll come across early on in your Italian language journey if you enjoy cooking (or eating): it means salty or savoury, from sale, salt.

A torta salata, for example, is a 'savoury cake' - that is, a pie.

- Com'è il sugo?
- È un po' troppo salato.
- How's the sauce? 
- It's a little too salty.

Sto preparando una torta salata di ricotta e spinaci per la festa.
I'm making a ricotta and spinach pie for the party.

But you won't just hear the adjective used to describe food.

Tune into an episode of Quattro Ristoranti, in which four restauranteurs rate each other's establishments under the guidance of celebrity chef Alessandro Borghese, and you'll often hear people complain that the bill is troppo salato (too high).

Alessandro Borghese Quanto Abbiamo Speso GIF - Alessandro Borghese Quanto Abbiamo Speso 4ristoranti GIFs Quattro Ristoranti contestants must guess the bill after each meal at a competitor's restaurant. Source: Tenor.

That's because salato also means excessively high or pricey.

Non parcheggio lì, l'ultima volta mi hanno fatto una multa salata.
I'm not parking there, the last time they gave me a steep fine.

Il conto è estremamente salato rispetto alle nostre aspettative.
The bill is much higher than we were expecting.

How did the word salty come to mean steep or expensive?


Salt used to carry a very high price, with entire wars being fought over the "white gold".

Back in ancient Roman times, salt was such a sought-after commodity that an allowance was known in Latin as a salarium, or salt-money, which is where we get the word salary (in Italian, salario) from today.

Some sources even say that Roman soldiers were at least partly paid their salarium in salt, though others dispute this as a myth.

The high prices that salt commanded in the marketplace meant that salato was a natural synonym for costly, and it retained this meaning even after salt became the everyday item it is today.

Just make sure you don't confuse salato/a/i/e with the past participle of salire, to increase or rise, which takes essere as its auxiliary verb and is often seen in similar contexts.


Gli affitti sono saliti del 25% nell'ultimo anno.
Rents have risen 25% in the past year.

Non faccio acquisti da Andrea, i suoi prezzi sono salatissimi.
I don't shop at Andrea's, his prices are very expensive.

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JMB 2024/02/19 17:32
Apropos of high salt prices, the people of Florence stopped using salt in their bread because the taxes on salt from Pisa made it too expensive. This led to Dante's poignant comment that in exile, "You shall find out how salt is the taste of another man's bread, and how hard is the way up and down another man's stairs."

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