By now, most of us with an interest in gastronomy have experimented with or at least heard of the technique known as brining. This is a subject that tends to be more widely discussed during the holidays, since the process is especially useful for large meat items that require extended cooking times (like turkey) and for preserving meats (like cured ham). The active ingredient at play is, of course, salt, specifically sodium chloride. It is probably the least exotic-which is to say that it is the most commonly used, most ancient, and most useful-seasoning on earth. Unlike nearly everything else we use for cooking (utensils aside), it is inorganic: Because it naturally occurs in its crystalline form, it is a mineral, a rock straight from the earth, unlike sugar, which is produced naturally only in living organisms. We need it to survive, yet too much is very damaging, even deadly. And although most of the salt that's produced in the world is used for things other than human consumption, it really does make food taste better. Like, for real it does, because, duh, science. CliffsNotes on how we taste things vis-a-vis neurophysiology, comin' in hot. . . .