BLACK DEATH

Photograph by Horacio Salinas.
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An unholy triumvirate of industrial salt, licorice and sugared vodka

From its illustrious past as an essential ingredient in the lost art of alchemy, to its current inclusion as a binding agent in industrial glue, no where is ammonium chloride’s (chemical formula, NH4CL) use more pervasive than its over-representation in Nordic licorice sweets. Commonly referred to as salmiakki, this corrosive salt is present in all manner of salted licorice from Iceland to Denmark, through Finland. In fact, the latter holds the substance in such high regard that to remove salmiakki (a Finnish word, natch) from the local food chain would result in a defined decimation of the nation’s candy reserves. From tongue tingling powders to saliva stimulating chewing gums and de-rigeur black chewy lozenges, it’s the Finnish Tyrkisk Pyber (Turkish pepper) candy where salmiakki reaches its apotheosis. A hard and somewhat spicy boiled licorice bonbon, the centre of this black gem is loaded with reserves of salty goodness, suddenly released after but minutes of contemplative sucking. Once depleted, the black husk is quickly dispersed and it’s on to another. Mmmmmmmm…

More curious is salmiakki’s perverse standing in Finnish drinking culture. By taking a large packet of Tyrkisk Pyber, and coaxing it to dissolve in a litre bottle of cheap vodka (placing the vessel in a dishwasher is an effective means of ruffling the candy into submission), one is left with a staggering liqueur referred to colloquially as salmari—brilliantly endowed with the teenager’s preference for tasting entirely non-alcoholic (yet rather alarmingly of chemical salt, refined sugar and molten licorice). Knocked back with alarming frequency in seedy bars and clubs across the North, a night on salmari results in perhaps the worst ever morning-after experience—a black mark on the Nordic countries if ever there was one!

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