“Chicken salt or plain salt?”
It’s a question that’ll confuse the hell out of everyone except Aussies when ordering hot chips, a.k.a. fries.
But damn, do Aussies love it. The condiment is a mainstay of takeaway food shops around the country, and considering there’s a fish and chip shop on basically every regional corner, that’s saying something. But what the heck is it?
While Canadians load their chips with poutine, Belgians have them with mayo and Germans happily dip theirs in curry ketchup, Australians prefer to douse their fried potatoes with a fluorescent yellow (sometimes orange) salt substance.
It has somehow become the country’s default condiment and honestly, it’s their best-kept secret.
Featuring a very addictive umami flavour that has hints of garlic or onion, it sometimes even has a bit of paprika. With the right amount, it is delightful.
Yet the unique condiment has somehow never had the same waves as other Australian staples like Vegemite or the humble, delicious lamington.
It’s the taste of long summers by the beach; the taste of a sneaky after school snack; a reminder of whenever your parents couldn’t be bothered cooking and got you fish and chips instead.
But just where did chicken salt come from?
A brief history
Mitani, a spices company in Adelaide, claims to be the first to have created chicken salt in the 1970s.
Started by European immigrants Loui and Trianka Mitani, the business started off dealing with other food businesses, designing and supplying salts and spices for restaurants.
Chicken salt found life in takeaway shops, but its original intention wasn’t for chips or scallops.
“We were basically asked to make a salt for their chickens,” Lewis Mitani, Mitani’s marketing manager, explained to Mashable.
“It was meant to be for rotisserie chickens, to give them good flavour and colour once they were cooked. It was the chicken shop owners who started seasoning their chips with chicken salt … and through that the average punter became accustomed to having chicken salt on their chips.”
Starting from shops in South Australia, the once-mysterious chicken salt product slowly made its way around the country.
“My uncle was basically our sole sales agent, and he’d go to every chicken shop he could get to around the country and personally sell this product to them,” Lewis said.
The company now sells 70 tonnes of chicken salt every year.
In 1991, the company began selling a retail version of its product due to demand, and exports a small amount to the UK.
Mitani’s chicken salt recipe is held as a secret by the company (of course), but it is a vegetarian product contrary to its name.
World famous in Australia
Despite the national obsession, chicken salt still remains largely unknown outside of Australia, bar a recipe from U.S. magazine Lucky Peach that highlighted how much Aussies talk about the seasoning.
“Aussies travel in packs in the United States, so if you meet one, you meet twenty. And when Aussies get together, the conversation inevitably turns to chicken salt, how its not available in the States, and how it should be,” the article reads.
You’ll get to try it one day, world. And when that glorious day comes, please thank Australia.