1979 Chicken salt goes commercial

Chicken salt is as Australian as Vegemite, although with a shorter history. It was invented by Peter Brinkworth in the early 1970s, as a seasoning for the roast chickens he sold in his Gawler, South Australia, chicken shop. The Mitani family bought Brinkworth’s business in 1979 and, with it, acquired the recipe for chicken salt. The seasoning went on to become the preferred sprinkle for hot chips across Australia. In 1979, Mitani began to sell the product commercially to the takeaway food industry.

The recipe for chicken salt has changed since Brinkworth first developed it. He told celebrity chef Adam Liaw that his blend contained onion powder, garlic powder, celery salt, paprika, chicken bouillon and monosodium glutamate. The Mitani version today lists its ingredients as Sea Salt (82%), Rice Flour, Spices, Vegetable Powders (Onion, Garlic, Natural Flavour, Yeast Extract) and Anticaking Agent (551). It is halal, gluten-free, suitable for vegetarians and contains no MSG and, clearly, no chicken. Brinkworth claims that it’s not a patch on his original recipe.

Although Mitani claims to have been the originator of chicken salt and was no doubt responsible for its progress through the fish and chip shops of Australia, they now have competitors. Not all recipes sound quite so benign. Anchor Chicken Chippy Salt, for example, has a lot more mysterious numbers in its ingredients list: Salt (70%), Wheat Flour, Flavour Enhancers (621, 635, 327), Wheat Starch, Onion Powder, Sugar, Maltodextrin (from corn and tapioca), Food Acids (330), Anticaking Agent (341), Flavours, Spice, Beef Fat, Bell Pepper Powder, Herbs, Soy Sauce Powder, Seasoning, Caramel Colour (150c).

Other manufacturers are Saxa, Masterfoods and Nice N’ Tasty and all their recipes are slightly different. Most don’t identify the spices they use and include a generic mention of “flavours”. Perhaps most famous for a special salt mix on fries is KFC (aka Kentucky Fried Chicken). Online forums are full of fans wanting to get their hands on the KFC salt mix and being advised that the only way to do it is to have a mate who works there steal some for you.  It turns out that this salt mix is also unique to Australia, with the American KFCs using plain salt.

Perhaps because wandering Aussies tend to lament the lack of their home-grown flavours when overseas, chicken salt is now available in America. Amazon sells a couple of versions, one made in Australia and the other, Jada, carrying the words “An Australian tradition” on its packaging. The Jada version is vegan – so definitely no chicken there although it claims to have a “unique chicken flavour”. It’s also gluten and MSG-free, with no soy, no additives, and no genetically modified ingredients.

Like many favourite foods, alas, chicken salt is not good for you, although Mitani claims that “by enhancing the natural flavour of the food during cooking, the use of Mitani Chicken Salt can aid in the reduction of use of traditional table salt”.  They recommend that salt, like all other foods, should be consumed in moderation.

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