A few years ago, I was traveling Portugal on a tight budget, staying in hostels and eating the majority of my meals in the hostel kitchen, consuming more than a lifetime’s worth of pasta salad in less than a month. Occasionally, though, I would gather with a group of newfound friends and we would take to the streets of Porto, searching for a cheap meal, trying—and often failing—to avoid the touristy areas overrun with other young travelers just like us.
Portugal boasts one of the most delicious cuisines in the world, but attempting to spend no more than €15 on a full sit-down meal (including beer) doesn’t always guarantee you the best food a country has to offer. During one particularly flavorless meal that was in desperate need of some doctoring, my new Australian friend grabbed his backpack and started digging around, finally retrieving an unfamiliar-looking shaker of a condiment I had never heard of until that point: chicken salt.
He sprinkled the pale yellowish condiment on our octopus rice, which had, just minutes before, been seemingly completely lacking in any sort of discernable flavor. But once the chicken salt had blessed that overcooked rice and rubbery octopus, the dish was transformed. A salty, umami and yes, kind of chicken-y flavor dominated our previously bland plates, and I was an instant convert. I loved chicken salt.
What Is Chicken Salt? And Does It Actually Contain Chicken?
So, what is it, anyway? Chicken salt is a condiment that hails from Australia. It was originally introduced by the food company Mitani in 1979. And for all the vegetarians out there who are interested in trying out a new condiment, there’s no need to worry—despite its name, chicken salt is, in fact, vegetarian. It contains no chicken but rather features spices that you may choose to add to a rotisserie chicken. The flavor is similar to chicken bouillon (which actually does contain chicken), but it’s drier and not quite as salty. Though the exact ingredients used in chicken salt can vary by brand, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and MSG play major roles in this flavor combo.
Chicken salt is commonly used on fries, known as “chips” in Australia, but if you have a bottle of your own, you can add it to just about anything, which my friend gladly did as we made our way through several budget meals during our trip. It’s the kind of condiment that has almost universal savory appeal—if it ever gains more traction in the U.S., I can totally see it eclipsing Everything Bagel Seasoning, ushering us into exciting new international condiment frontiers.
Is Chicken Salt Available in the U.S.?
I hate being the bearer of bad news, but as of the time of writing, you’re definitely not going to find chicken salt on the shelves of a U.S. Trader Joe’s anytime soon. You’re unlikely to find it at any other grocery store either, unless you luck out at a local specialty store. However, if you’re dying to try chicken salt but can’t afford a ticket to Melbourne, you can snag it on Amazon. There are several different brands to choose from, and you can get the stuff shipped to your home in a matter of days. And while I hate placing even a single cent in Bezos’ grubby, greedy little hands, I can’t deny that getting chicken salt delivered to my door was the best part of my week.
How Do You Use Chicken Salt?
Once you finally get your hands on the stuff and try it on fries, you may be wondering what to do with it next. Since it’s so versatile, you can add it to a wide variety of savory dishes, but if you’re looking for ideas, these are some suggestions we love:
Roast chicken: Chicken salt was literally made for flavoring the crispy skin of a roast chicken, so this is a great place to start if you want to get a sense of chicken salt’s range.
Breadcrumbs: Whether you’re making eggplant parm or a crispy pork cutlet, adding chicken salt to your breadcrumbs can add a layer of flavor that’s impossible to achieve with salt alone.
Popcorn: I love plain buttered popcorn, but I’m certainly not a purist. Adding a dash of chicken salt to your popcorn can seriously take it to a whole new level.
Pasta and potato salads: Adding chicken salt to pasta and potato salad is an absolute game changer—all of your friends will be asking for the recipe (if you’re nice enough to share with them).
In marinades and dry rubs: Don’t limit chicken salt to chicken. It can also be added to the seasoning for pork, beef, lamb and pretty much any other meat for a burst of flavor.
Chicken salt doesn’t look like it’s going to overtake Everything Bagel Seasoning anytime soon, but I’m holding out hope for its widespread expansion into the American market. And when it finally makes its way onto Trader Joe’s shelves, outfitted in a shaker bottle with a quirky, hand-drawn label, I will rejoice.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.