The first thing most people do to enhance the taste of their dish is to grab that tiny shaker of salt and sprinkle it on their food. But what if that shaker had black salt in it, instead of the regular kind – would it still add the same flavor to your dish?
Black salt is a unique salt that originates from salt mines in South Asia. It is easily available online and found in most grocery stores, especially in Indian stores. However, if you cannot find it, you can substitute it with Himalayan pink salt, Hawaiian black salt, or regular salt.
This article will explain all you need to know about black salt, the magic ingredient in most South Asian cuisines, including:
- Why it has a distinctive smell and color
- What it tastes like
- Things that could make a good substitute for it
So, let’s get started, shall we?
What is Black Salt and Why is it Black?
Black salt has its roots in Ayurvedic medicine when it was believed to be discovered by Maharishi Charak, the father of Ayurvedic medicine, around 300 B.C. Ayurvedic medicine is the practice of holistic medicine which originated in India.
Black salt, or Kala namak in Hindi, is a salt mined in regions surrounding the Himalayas. It originally has a pink hue, but it gets its distinctive black color when burned in a kiln or furnace at extremely high temperatures for 24 hours.
Black salt is found in South Asia, including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. It is extracted mainly from the rock salt mines in the Himalayan regions in its raw, natural form.
The natural salt has a colorless to light pink hue but can be transformed to the commercially available black salt by either a reduction process done traditionally or manufactured synthetically, as is the common practice now.
The Traditional Way
The chemical reaction is a reductive process that partly reduces the sodium sulfate in the natural salt to hydrogen and sodium sulfide. The process occurs in a kiln or furnace in a sealed ceramic jar with charcoal as the salt is fired for 24 hours.
Some herbs, bark, and seeds are also added during this process.
After the salt and its additives melt, it is cooled and stored to age before being sold commercially. The final product is salt crystals with a distinctive black color and can appear pinkish-grey when ground to a fine powder.
The Modern Way
Nowadays, black salt is made synthetically in the laboratory. This process involves combining common salt (sodium chloride) with sodium sulfate, ferric sulfate, and some sugar. This mixture is then heated and reduced in a furnace with activated charcoal, which produces synthetic black salt, which is the version mostly available in markets today.
What Does Black Salt Taste Like?
If you think about it, black salt should taste just like regular salt. But, black salt is distinctively different from other salts, both in color and taste.
As mentioned above, black salt consists of sodium chloride reduced to sulfur compounds and later mixed with various herbs. The sodium chloride gives it a salty taste and the added herbs greatly enhance its taste.
Black salt tastes like regular salt but with a distinctive savory and tangy taste. Unlike regular salt, the presence of sulfur gives black salt its savory flavor that reminds people of raw egg whites.
Black salt has many compounds that add to its flavor profile:
- Sodium chloride: salty
- Sulfur compounds: slight savory, umami taste
- Acidic bisulfates/bisulfites: mild sourness and tanginess
Just like the unique taste of black salt, its aroma is also one of a kind.
Why Does Black Salt Smell Like Sulfur?
Black salt smells like sulfur because it contains sulfur compounds. The sulfur gives black salt a unique aroma of hard-boiled or rotten eggs. Some people also describe the smell as someone passing gas.
When black salt is processed from its original form, one of the various spices and herbs added are the seeds from the harad fruit that contain sulfur which gives black salt its distinctive smell. Hydrogen sulfide is the most prominent contributor to the smell.
Why Should You Use Black Salt?
Black salt is not just regular salt. Its benefits have been mentioned in Ayurveda medicine since its discovery, and with time, black salt is gaining popularity for other reasons.
Black salt is useful because it has a lower sodium content than regular salt, sea salt, and Himalayan pink salt. It also has antioxidant properties, and the important minerals found in black salt make it a valuable ingredient. In Ayurveda, the purpose of using black salt is as a cooling spice to help indigestion.
The following minerals are also found in black salt that can prove to be beneficial for health:
The following are some of the benefits highlighted in Ayurveda, but there is little scientific evidence to support these claims:
- Laxative and digestive aid
- Reduces heartburn and bloating
- Reduces cholesterol
- Regulates blood pressure
- Eases muscle spasms
Which Types of Cuisines Commonly Use Black Salt?
Black salt or Kala namak is an ingredient you may have come across in many recipes. You may have just substituted it with regular salt, but as we discussed above, black salt has a complex taste that gives dishes a unique taste.
South Asian cuisines commonly use black salt to achieve that salty yet savory kick in most of their dishes. Black salt is also commonly used to replace the taste of eggs in vegan dishes, especially tofu scramble.
Black salt may have an odd smell but once added to food, the smell dissipates quickly. It is a salty herb with a bold taste that is perfect for many South Asian dishes and is used in South Asian snacks like:
Black salt can be used as a condiment on salads and fruits since it has a rich mineral taste.
The following are some popular dishes that use black salt as one of the main ingredients.
If you are a fan of Indian cuisine, you might have tried this refreshing drink at an Indian restaurant. With a savory flavor, it is a bit of acquired taste, but can be a refreshing summer drink and is known to help with digestion.
Chaat masala is a popular spice powder mix found in Indian cuisines that can be used in a simple curry or to add extra flavor to a fruit bowl.
Chaat masala is known for bringing a tangy kick to anything it is added to, and lo and behold, the tanginess of chaat masala comes from black salt.
The next time you decide to try an Indian curry or lentils or want to give your simple salad bowl an extra kick, make sure you have black salt at hand. Read on to see where you can find black salt to stock for your pantry.
Where Can You Buy Black Salt?
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When you purchase black salt, keep in mind that it has several names. It is also known as its Hindi name “Kala namak,” or as “Himalayan black salt,” “Sulemani namak,” or “Indian black salt.”
Black salt can be bought from most South Asian grocery stores. It may also be available at a local grocery store as it is gaining popularity. You can buy black salt from online sites like Amazon and get it delivered to your house.
When you buy black salt, make sure you store it in an airtight container as the salt can absorb moisture from its environment and get ruined. Here are some options that are available online:
- Rani Black Salt: This lavender-flavored Himalayan black salt has a high sulfur and iron content. It is packed in a no-barrier plastic jar to prevent the salt from getting spoiled.
- Taj Gourmet Premium Indian Black Salt Powder: This is premium quality salt by Taj Gourmet Foods that is finely grounded and blends easily into food.
- Spicy World Black Salt: This pure, refined, and 100 percent natural black salt has no preservatives or chemicals and is sourced from India.
- Botanic Black Salt: This fine-grained black salt is packaged in an easy-to-use shaker bottle. The product is advertised to be soy and gluten-free.
What are Substitutes for Black Salt?
Black salt has a distinctive taste that adds a certain kick to your foods. However, you could substitute it with more accessible salts if your pantry is out of black salt or you cannot find it in any shop nearby.
The best substitutes for Indian black salt are Himalayan pink salt and Hawaiian black salt. Chaat masala, which contains black salt in its ingredient list, can also be used to spice up your dish instead of black salt.
Himalayan Pink Salt
Himalayan pink salt is used in the traditional method to create black salt. It is pink in color due to its impurities but has a similar taste profile to black salt. The lack of sulfur in Himalayan pink salt does not give it a spicy or savory taste like black salt.
Hawaiian Black Salt
Black salt and Hawaiian black salt are obtained from volcanic mines. Both these salts are processed to give them their distinctive black color. Hawaiian black salt is a good substitute for the Indian version as Hawaiian black salt also has a mild sulfuric aroma.
As discussed above, black salt is used to make chaat masala. If you have chaat masala in your pantry or can find it in a local store, since it’s easier to find due to its popularity in Indian cuisines, you can hack your way by substituting chaat masala for black salt.
Since it has other ingredients that make it spicy and tangier, be cautious not to overuse it.
If you don’t have any of these options at home, you could use regular salt or sea salt, but these won’t add the savory, tangy taste that comes with black salt. You can also omit black salt entirely as sometimes substituting it with other salts can make the dish very salty or alter the flavor of some dishes.
Black salt, or Kala namak, is a good alternative for regular salt. It has the added benefit of antioxidant properties and lower sodium content than regular salt. If you love the taste of South Asian cuisines, black salt is a must-have ingredient in your pantry.
Sprinkle a bit of black salt on your salads or fruit bowls to enhance your food experience.