What Is Indian Black Salt?

The tangy, savory and umami-rich mineral that makes countless South Asian dishes so irresistibly delicious.

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October 19, 2021

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The South Asian pantry is a treasure chest of incredible herbs and spices. Ingredients such as cumin, coriander and turmeric, which form the foundations of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi food, have made their way into the global pantry. But one ingredient that plays a key role in the region’s most tantalizing dishes rarely gets the spotlight it deserves: Indian black salt, a tangy, sulfurous mineral. It’s the ultimate flavor booster that makes South Asian food so indescribably delicious.

What Is Black Salt?

Known in South Asia as kala namak, Indian black salt (also called Himalayan black salt) is a volcanic rock salt found in areas surrounding the Himalayas and parts of Northern India. It is composed of sodium chloride (NaCl), a key chemical compound found in regular salt, along with trace amounts of various sulfuric compounds. In solid rock form, the salt appears dark grey. However, once it’s pulverized, it takes on a pinkish hue.

You may come across two other types of commonly used black salts: black ritual salt and black lava salt. These salts are vastly different from the type used in South Asian cooking. Black lava salt, which originates from Hawaii and Cyprus, is flakier than its South Asian counterpart and carries an earthy, smokey flavor profile. It is most commonly used as a finishing salt in fine dining dishes but it can also be found in cocktails, usually as a rim for margaritas. On the other hand, black ritual salt is a combination of salt and charcoal and it’s most commonly used for non-food related niche spiritual practices.

What Does Black Salt Taste Like?

The sulfuric compounds in Indian black salt lend to its distinct tangy and pungent taste. It’s rich in umami and many often liken its flavor profile to boiled egg yolks. When used correctly and in moderation, it can add an earthy, and intensely savory note while boosting the overall flavor of just about any dish.

FN Flat Recipe: Papdi Chaat

FN Flat Recipe: Papdi Chaat

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael

How Is Black Salt Used?

Black salt was first used in Ayurvedic medicine due to its supposed therapeutic qualities. Although very little research has been done on this unique mineral, some Ayurvedic experts claim that black salt is high in antioxidants, good for digestion and benefits heart and gut health.

In the kitchen, however, this sulfurous salt plays the role of an umami-rich flavor enhancer. Most notably, it’s one of the key ingredients in chaat masala, a tart and hot blend of spices that gives South Asian street food dishes like Papdi Chaat their distinctly irresistible flavor. Many add it to chutneys, achars and raitas to amp up the savory notes in these condiments. On hot summer days, it’s used to perk up beverages like lassis and lemonades. Additionally, it’s often used in fruit salads to help enhance the natural sweetness of tropical fruits.

The key to using black salt is to remember that a sprinkle goes a long way. It’s a rather pungent ingredient; if you open a jar of black salt in the kitchen, chances are your family members will smell it from another room. But don’t worry, its aroma dissipates as it integrates with other spices and ingredients in a dish and in fact, you can use its sulfuric characteristics to replicate eggs in vegan dishes. Try adding it to scrambled tofu, or use it to make vegan carbonara and vegan mayonnaise. It’s also great as a seasoning for roasted vegetables or sprinkled on French fries and fried chickpeas.

What Is the Difference Between Salt and Indian Black Salt? Can I Substitute It for Regular Salt?

The spectrum of salts available in the world is as vast as it is diverse. Many can be used interchangeably; however, Indian black salt is unique in its own way. One of the key differences between Indian black salt and sea salt is its iodine levels. Unlike sea salt, Indian black salt is not iodized prior to packaging, therefore it does not have the same levels of iodine as say, table salt or kosher salt. This is important because iodine is crucial to human development and the salt we consume every day is one of the few dietary sources of this vital mineral. That said, substituting Indian black salt for regular salts isn’t necessarily practical or healthy. Its sulfuric flavor profile can be overwhelming and it likely won’t meet your recommended daily iodine intake, so it’s best used as a flavoring in addition to sea salt.

Where Can I Buy Indian Black Salt?

You can probably find Indian black salt at specialty health stores but chances are they will cost you a pretty penny. Moreover, there are plenty of synthesized, lab made versions available that aren’t as flavorful as the ones harvested from the Himalayas. Your best bet is to visit a South Asian grocery store if there’s one near you, or purchase a pouch on Amazon from a South Asian brand.

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