Squids are strange creatures in many ways. They conjure up images of sea monsters and underwater battles with submarines. Their enormous heads, big eyes, tentacles, and beaks are just the start. They are also shockingly intelligent.
To top this all off, squids (and other cephalopods) have a unique form of camouflage. Rather than blend in with their surroundings, these squishy sea creatures throw up a smokescreen. When threatened, they release a dark cloud of ink.
The ink provides a visual barrier and distraction. In the confusion, the squid can escape from their attacker.
This unusual strategy utilizes a unique substance. Squid Ink. This substance has been used in food and medicine throughout history.
Do all squids ink?
Squids are members of a class of animals called cephalopods (Cephallopoda). Surprisingly, these animals are actually mollusks, not fish! That means they are more related to clams than to fish.
Not only do all squids produce ink, but most of their relatives do too!
All cephalopods, other than nautilus, deep-sea, and nocturnal octopuses produce ink. However, each species produces different ink. It can vary in color, consistency, and chemical composition.
Why make ink?
Ink may do far more than just hide a squid. Though most squid ink is not poisonous, its unique composition may provide added protection. Ink may smell like food, distracting predators. Other inks may disgust predators, protecting eggs.
How do Squids Make Ink?
When a squid “inks” it uses two different organs. By combining the fluids in each it controls the type of ink cloud they produce.
- The ink sacs: These sacs are the most obvious source of ink. These hold the dark ink, rich in melanin.
- The funnel organ: The importance of this gland for inking is a more recent discovery. It produces mucus that mixes with the ink. Squids can adjust the mix of mucus and ink. This allows them to change the way the ink moves.
What is squid ink made of?
Squid ink contains a wide array of different naturally occurring chemicals. These range from proteins, to neurotransmitters. These compounds provide the characteristics of squid ink that make it useful as a diversion, food, and medicine.
- Melanin: The dark color of squid ink is due to its high melanin content. Melanin is a dark pigment that is produced in many animals. The melanin in squid ink occurs in tiny particles.
- Enzymes: Ink can contain a number of proteins called enzymes. These are molecular machines used to produce the ink.
- Catecholamines: Melanin is produced from chemicals related to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Squid ink has been shown to contain trace amounts of dopamine and L-DOPA (a drug used in treating Parkinson’s disease).
Can you eat squid ink?
What does squid ink taste like?
Though squid ink won’t improve your health, it might improve your cooking! The various compounds that makeup squid ink give it a unique flavor. It is described as savory, briny, and earthy.
Squid ink is used in a number of specialty dishes. Squid ink is popular in Japanese and Mediterranean cuisine. Squid ink is used for its dark color as well as its unique rick and savory flavor.
One common culinary use is squid ink pasta. The ink gives the pasta a black color, as well as a unique, savory flavor.
Culinary “squid ink” is often actually sourced from cuttlefish, a related cephalopod. Cuttlefish generally produce a more desirable ink with superior flavor to most squid ink.
What dishes contain squid ink?
- Photo Credit: Steve Ryan
- This is probably the most well known culinary use of squid ink. These dark noodles have an unusual appearance and a strong savory taste.
- Arroz Negro (black rice)
- This is a Valencian and Catalan dish that combines squid, prawns, herbs, and squid ink with rice for a unique and delicious meal.
- Risotto Nero
- Risotto Nero or black risotto, is a rice dish that combines rice with squid ink to create a delicious and unique meal.
- Chipirones en su tinta (baby squid in ink sauce)
- This traditional basque recipe combines small squid with a sauce made from squid ink!
- Ikasumi jiru (ink soup with pork and squid)
- This is a traditional soup from Okinawa, Japan. It combines squid ink with pork and stock. It is believed to have medicinal properties.
- Cavianne (an imitation caviar)
- Cavianne is a fake caviar that combines squid ink with pectin, a sea urchin extract, oyster, scallops and a kelp extract.
- Squid ink has been popular as a mixer in fancy cocktails. It can create a unique savory drink. Squid ink provides an unusual flair for your cocktail.
Is squid ink good for you?
Squid ink has a long history of use as a medicine. Many cultures have prescribed it for various illnesses throughout history.
Researchers are looking into the possibility of using squid ink as a medicine. Studying the effects of squid ink is complicated by the condition of the studied squids. Often, researchers use dead or preserved squids, which may impact the effectiveness of the ink. Possible areas of research for squid ink include.
- Anti-cancer effects
- Anti-viral effects
There are a range of benefits seen in test-tubes and non-human lab animals. However, there is no good evidence that people would get these same benefits. These initial results are fueling interest in further research into potential medical uses of squid ink.
There are many wild claims about the benefits of eating squid ink in food. However, the small amounts found in dishes like risotto nero are too small to have any significant effect.
Shop Squid from TinCanFish: Palacio de Oriente Squid
This is an opinion piece. When considering health and medicine always consult your local physician or certified naturopath.