black salt, aka kala namak

I’m a bit surprised that after all this time that no chef has been challenged with kala namak, or Indian black salt, in the Reader’s long-running Key Ingredient series. To me, it has just the right balance of savory goodness and aggressive fetor to make it controversial among those who’ve never tried it. The latter is due to its high sulfur content, which produces an odor strikingly evocative of hard-boiled egg yolks, so much so that vegans often use it to season things like mock egg salad and faux deviled eggs. The salt isn’t really black—it’s more of a grayish purple when granulated, and dark purple in its solid crystalline form. It’s valued in ayurvedic medicine as a cooling spice, and some folks claim it can lower blood pressure when used as a substitute for regular salt. Oh, and it’s supposedly good for heartburn and, counterintuitively, gas.

I was recently given a big bag of purple rocks from Nepal, where I was told it’s frequently added to black tea. After several attempts I’m fairly certain that’s a taste I won’t acquire. I have used it to season roasted vegetables quite a bit, as local author Anupy Singla recommends in her recent book Vegan Indian Cooking. I haven’t seen the whole crystals anywhere around town, but you can find the granulated version in pretty much any grocery store on Devon.