Finnish word salmiakki is a generic name for numerous types of "salty liquorice" candies and confections containing ammonium chloride (E510) as a flavouring ingredient.
Picture on left: a fraction of the salty liquorice candy selection found sold in Finland.
In its pure form, ammonium chloride (NH4Cl) also called sal ammoniac and salmiac, among other names is a white, fine crystalline salt of ammonia.
Ammonium chloride forms as a result of a chemical reaction of volcanic gases and it is commercially prepared by reacting ammonia (NH3) with hydrogen chloride (HCl).
Having many industrial uses, ammonium chloride is also added to certain medicines and used to flavour foodstuffs, like salty liquorice candies.
Confections containing ammonium chloride are mainly consumed in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, but also in the Netherlands and parts of Germany.
The vast selection of various salty liquorice candies especially in Finland adds a welcome versatility to the unimaginative array of confectionary encountered in most other countries notably those sharing the Anglo-American culture :-)
In Finland, salmiakki was originally available in pharmacies only, sold as powder licked or medicated candy sucked to sooth a sore throat or ease a cough by loosening mucus.
Also today it is a popular flavouring ingredient in many cough drops, syrups, expectorants, toothpastes and medicine sold in Finland.
Salmiakki comes in many textures, forms, colours and flavour variations from hard, soft, powdery or chewy sweets, or a solid or liquid filling in them, to chewing gums, powders and liquids.
Picture on right: Swedish salty liquorice candy in powder form, consisting of sugar, ammonium chloride and liquorice powder. Simple and delicious!
Although the colour most often associated with salty liquorice sweets is black, obtained using carbon black (E153), their colour may vary from white or light grey and brown to dark grey, brown and black.
Besides ammonium chloride, salty liquorice sweets mostly consist of sugar, liquorice and water, with additions like starch, gum arabic, gelatine, glucose syrup and/or salt.
In most sweets, ammonium chloride is paired with liquorice, but also other flavourings and spices may be added, like aniseed, menthol, eucalyptus, pepper, etc, sometimes also fruit flavours.
An Icelandic speciality is to pair salty liquorice with milk chocolate, a combination that has become popular also here in Finland.
In Finland salmiakki is also available in liquid form as a strongly flavoured black syrup to be mixed in spirits, drinks, cocktails and milk shakes, dessert sauces and frostings, ice cream and parfait mixtures, cake and muffin batters, even barbecue sauces and marinades for meats.
In fact, there hardly is a food item that we Finns have not tried to flavour or eat with our beloved salmiakki...
Another "unusual ingredient" in Finnish cuisine is pine tar water, mainly used to flavour candies and beverages, but also certain sweet and savoury dishes.