Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Black Salt (Kala Namak)

There are many things in life that are acquired tastes.

Nobody was ever born liking beer (bitter because of the hops) or liking either red wine or tea (astringent and bitter because of the tannins.) Every culture has a characteristic item (or ten) that you are going to have to come to terms with if you really want to enjoy the food.

Japanese food has natto. Indian food has kala namak.

(Chinese has all the gristly bits but that's for a different post.)

Kala namak is just salt which contains a number of impurities including greigite (Fe3S4) and sodium sulfate (Na2SO4.)

It was traditionally fired in a kiln with charcoal but no air and the reductive process created multiple sulfides which gave it the characteristic smell,. The greigite gives it the characteristic black/violet color (which changes to mauve when ground up.)

The CC cannot sugar-coat this part. It smells like rotten eggs or the sewer. We associate this smell with dirt and rottenness because of the hydrogen sulfide produced by the salt in the presence of air. (You may remember the smell of hydrogen sulfide from your chemistry class.)

However, a vast number of Indian recipes would simply be incomplete without this ingredient. It forms a crucial lynchpin in the sweet-savory-spicy-salty spectrum. The smell and sour taste is inimitable.

The CC has increasingly seen chefs use it in restaurants. Most notable was as a topping on a foie gras terrine. The smell was unmistakable and the salt cut through the fat perfectly as was intended.

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