In the kitchen, there’s no ingredient more important than salt. One of the five basic tastes (i.e. salty, sweet, bitter, sour, umami), salt used in moderation is integral for flavor and aroma. You’re probably familiar with table salt, kosher salt, sea salt, and Himalayan salt. What may be less familiar to you is black salt, or “Kala Namak” in Hindi.
Kala namak is a highly valued kiln-rock salt with a sulphurous smell. It is gathered from the salt mines and salt lakes in the northern parts of India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. What distinguishes the salt from other varieties is its reduction process, during which it is combined with charcoal, herbs, seeds, and bark, and then fired in a furnace for 24 hours before being cooled, stored and aged. This process gives kala namak its reddish-black color, pungent taste and faint, sulfurous aroma.
“This salt owes its unique flavor and color to the presence of iron sulfur compounds,” says Nik Sharma, a biologist-turned-award-winning-chef and this month’s CrateChef feature. “Kala namak is often used as a finishing salt on street-food snacks, as well as stews and vegetables. I sprinkle it over grilled meats and vegetables and add it to barbecue sauces in place of table salt.”
In his latest cookbook, The Flavor Equation, kala namak is a key ingredient in Spiced Fruit Salad (pg. 164), Crispy Carrots with Garlic and Mint Tahini (pg. 178), and Fried Eggs with Masala Hash Browns + Seared Tomato Green Peppercorn Chutney (pg. 245). It’s often used in vegan and vegetarian dishes, particularly because its natural chemistry effuses an eggy flavor. For that reason, kala namak is the perfect addition, and table salt substitution, to a classic breakfast.
Monthly CrateChef subscribers will receive a bountiful container of kala namak. And if you run out, you can pick up some more at your local indian grocery store or online. Happy cooking – or in Hindi – khush khaana pakaane!