Over the years, Australia has been happy to share its culinary revelations with the rest of the world, such as vegemite, lamingtons, and meat pies. While we don’t have signature dishes in abundance, what we do have is usually appreciated by our foreign counterparts. However, a lesser known Aussie staple is quietly gaining international attention, and Australian expats all over the world are thrilled.
There is one question Australians are asked that is never met with hesitation. Even before the question is uttered, we already have an answer.
“Regular salt or chicken salt?”
The answer is often unanimous. Hot chips in Australia are not chips unless doused in the fluorescent, yellow seasoning – once after plucking them from the deep-fryer, and again before wrapping them in the usual butcher’s paper. While the Dutch cover their chips in mayo, Canadians with gravy, and the Germans with curry-flavoured tomato sauce (?), the staple on all Australian scallops and hot chips is chicken salt. But where did this beloved condiment originate?
European immigrants Loui and Trianka Mitani started a business developing salts and spices for restaurants in Adelaide in the 1970s. Surprisingly, despite its popularity as a seasoning for hot chips, chicken salt wasn’t designed for that purpose but – as the name suggests – as a seasoning for rotisserie chickens. The spice slowly left South Australia and made its way around the country. The original recipe is held as a close secret of the Mitani family. Despite its name, chicken salt is an entirely vegetarian product – the ‘chicken’ in the name refers to its original purpose, rather than an actual ingredient. The taste is savoury with a hint of sweetness. While other chicken salt recipes differ in their ingredients, there are a few rumoured common staples: onion powder, garlic powder, celery salt, paprika, chicken stick, and perhaps a dash of curry powder.
In 1991, Mitani started selling a retail version of the seasoning due to popular demand. It even exports to the United Kingdom, so expats can drizzle the classic English fish and chips with a little taste of Oz.
It now seems like the rest of the world is catching up with us. Recently, Australian DJ Alison Wonderland lamented on a post on her Facebook page – which was ‘liked’ over 10,000 times – that Americans had never heard of chicken salt. “It doesn’t exist here. It’s messing with me.” When the Northern Hemisphere discovered the Australian staple, they started manufacturing their own version using chicken bullion and kosher salt.
So if you’re ever fortunate enough to sample the tangy taste and sensation of chicken salt, you’re welcome – from Australia.