I bet that the first time you have ever seen a black-blue pasta or sauce you were like: “Wait, what the… How can that be on the dark side!? Is it still safe!?”
And if you haven’t yet seen one, try to imagine your beautiful boul full of pasta and shrimps, only to find they are… black. Not even a touch of yellow or white.
Well, find out that people are eating these kinds of stuff. But more: they find it delicious! And the most important thing: it is 100% natural!
It is called squid ink, or cephalopod ink. It is a liquid made by things like squid, octopus, cuttlefish, and nautilus and has a role in protecting against other predators.
Stay with me and find out what squid ink tastes like and how can you use it in your kitchen.
What does squid ink taste like?
Squid ink is a briny liquid, which is salty, mild, and with a clean ocean taste. If you like to compare it with something, squid ink tastes more or less like oysters.
They both have that ocean salty smell and savory flavor. Plus, they both pleasure your tongue by having an umami taste.
Due to its deep blue or black color, you would expect it to have a strong, bitter taste and flavor.
While we are talking about interesting tastes, you may want to read our article about kimchi’s taste.
Squid ink taste is more of a neutral element when you combine it with other foods but used in large quantities can overwhelm you. The same goes for the flavor which is subtle in normal amounts.
Some would say that it has a strong salty taste, but I believe it is more related to the type of squid, and also the environment it had lived in.
However, in the kitchen, it is used more for the color it gives due to the presence of melanin, a natural pigment with many roles. The same pigment gives the color of your skin. Or the lack of it makes your skin white like milk, as I have.
Many of us know it as being dark blue or even black. But its range of color can be wide, from dark (octopus ink, the best ink for coloring) and blue (squid ink) to brown (cuttlefish ink for example) and even red.
Sepia, that cool retro effect we know, is strongly tied to the color cuttlefish ink has. So, yeah, whenever you post something on Instagram with a sepia effect, you just use a color found in an ink sac! Cool, huh?
What is squid ink used for
As I said earlier, nowadays we use it mostly in the kitchen for the color it gives to food or sauce. Also, the earthy-ocean note makes a whole new culinary experience out of any dish. Squid ink is the most used in Japan and the Mediterranean area for dishes like:
1. Squid ink pasta and rice
Small quantities of good quality squid ink can drastically change the color of any dish, and usually, sides like pasta and rice are used. After you learn how to use it, you can include it in the most common dishes. But usually, you have foods like:
- Arroz negro: It is a Valencian and Catalan dish made with cuttlefish (or squid) and rice. A classic recipe has, besides these ingredients, the followings: garlic, green cubanelle peppers, sweet paprika, olive oil, and seafood broth. You can also make paella and risotto (other recipes involving rice) with some drops of ink.
- Black pasta: Pasta with squid ink, scallops, herbs, and vegetables. In this case, you can add the ink when making the pasta itself (in the production phase), or you can add it in the cooking process. Usually, it’s the first option.
- Sushi: In a classic sushi recipe, for the saline flavor, sea taste of squid ink, and a mild flavor, drip 2-3 drops in rice and mix well.
Some use this as a natural colorant for deserts like:
- Black croissants: Unlike a regular one, this one is black and has things like ginger or cumin.
- Black meringue cookies: Think about the ‘food’ version of a macaron, with cheese cream and fishy-smelling cookie.
- Black Ice cream: A thing mostly in Japan, but as you can imagine, it is ice cream with squid ink.
3. Batter and flower products
You can use squid ink to color a burger bun, a batter, or a waffle. You can also surprise your family with a black weird looking pie. No worry, your bread, and pie would still be the best!
Learn how cornstarch tastes and how you can use it to improve your fresh squid-ink-colored burger buns.
However, because of its strong and concentrated pigments, you can find it used as a pigment, coloring agent, dye, writing ink, and food coloring.
Its strong pigments can easily change the color of any sauce. And if you are cooking with whole squids, there is a chance you don’t even have to buy squid ink. You can try squeezing ink sacs by yourself when you buy a fresh squid.
5. Fish and seafood dishes
You can add squid ink if you want to cook with some sort of seafood (like pink squid and Gould’s squid).
Two-three drops bring a slight hint of brine flavor. The same goes for fish dishes.
Squid ink history
For centuries squid ink was used traditionally in Chinese medicine to treat heart and blood issues.
And especially in the 19’th century, it was ink for pens and quills.
Also, an important role was as a color in cosmetics (hair coloring and mascara) and painting. Without too much, you can create strong shades and beautiful colors.
Squid ink’s nutritional benefits
Different researches show us that squid ink can help prevent or fight diseases.
- Fights against pathogens like microbiota or fungi.
Tests with squid ink and ink extract show that they have antimicrobial properties and fight against harmful bacteria and viruses. They are neutralized and can’t grow and replicate.
- It can be a good source of antioxidants.
Antioxidants will protect you against free radicals, read about this in our article about acai berries and their taste. Those are some molecular substances that can exist and act in your body by attacking cells. They mutate cells and ADNs and bring serious risks of chronic illnesses, heart diseases, cancer, and tissue mutation.
Different test tubes and animal studies show us that the antioxidant properties are from the chain of polysaccharides from the squid ink. Long and conjoined chains of sugar molecules help you.
Isn’t interesting that some forms of sugar can, after all, help you? Usually, sugar is that demon you have to avoid.
- Helps fight against cancer
Some researchers show evidence that the antioxidant properties of squid ink, together with its proteins, help in reducing tumors. Also, they suppress cancers like breast, prostate, and lung cancer.
Also, some studies show that squid ink polysaccharides may help in reducing the outcome of chemotherapy. It can help in protecting the digestive microflora and some other negative effects that chemotherapy often has.
Some other effects are:
- It may boost immunity. Animal studies show that a group that consumed squid ink had better results on the growth and immunity of cells than the one without. Overall immunity was also better.
- It can reduce blood pressure. Test-tube research shows us that squid ink has some compounds that can reduce blood pressure.
- It can help with stomach ulcers. Melanin from ink may help reduce stomach acid production.
Most of the results are on animals, so it is yet unknown how it would react in a human body. Still, these results are very promising and are a base for further research!
Did you know
- Squid ink has a role in defense mechanism. Cephalopod species use it when they feel in danger, and they get lost in the dark dense cloud of ink whenever a shark or a big predator is attacking them.
- Squid ink contains a lot of things. You can find melanin, enzymes, polysaccharides, catecholamines (hormones), metals like cadmium, lead, and copper, as well as amino acids, such as glutamate, taurine, alanine, leucine, and aspartic acid.
- Glutamate (or glutamic acid), a substance that occurs naturally in aged cheeses like Brie, some vegetables, and seafood, is responsible for umami taste? This is the biggest reason monosodium glutamate is used in the food industry.
One last word
So, now that we found the umami, briny and oceanic taste of the squid ink, no one can stop you to cook with it.
You can use it in many foods and desserts even if you don’t eat meat (it is considered vegetarian). And, starting from that, you can even make a whole food theme with it.
Think of something like: “The squid ink Friday.” Doesn’t that sound awesome?
Well, now find the closest specialty food shop that has it on sale and start painting on your plate! Make the whole culinary world pale in front of your dishes!