Has ammonium chloride have ever been used in any culture/cuisine instead of regular salt for salting fish, or for curing meat in general? How about pickled vegetables or any other food?

If no, why not?

I was wondering because I like the taste of salty liquorice, and the sal ammoniac itself tastes a lot like regular salt. Could it then be used in place of regular salt?


A cursory internet and pubmed search did not yield any historical/traditional/cultural food-ties to this quaternary ammonium salt compound for me. Personally, I would not feel comfortable using this in a home setting because it can be toxic in small quantities.

To my knowledge, ammoniac is used in agriculture (with pesticides and as an industrial equipment "cleaner") in salt form, it can be also be seen as a gas. Please remember, the industrial applications for NH4Cl are implemented in conjunction with other stringent regulations. The end consumer contact level of NH4Cl cannot exceed 48ppm in the US.

Being able to test the end product for NH4Cl residues requires lab equipment and an understanding of how to run liquid chromatography-tandem mass spec, or other specialized tests.

NH4Cl is also administered as part of medical treatments for metabolic alkalosis(acid-base balance issues), and is primarily absorbed in the GI tract. Patients undergoing treatments using NH4Cl are very closely supervised in the hospital because of the potent effect is has on the human system. Check out the pubchem site on this chemical. Look at the side effects of overdoses, they are NOT FUN. It really takes less than you think. http://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/summary/summary.cgi?cid=25517#x332

I fear that if you used this to cure meat or in a way that leaves more than 48ppm in the final product, that you may begin to experience serious health complications.

You also mention in your question that you like the taste of salty licorice/liquorice?, and the wiki source does say that it is used as a flavoring agent in liquorice...but there is no mention of the final concentration of this compound in the candy. If the anstringency/tounge numbing is what you are after, USE SOMETHING ELSE. Honestly, I would tell anyone I care about to NOT USE QUATERNARY AMMONIUM SALTS AT HOME, IN FOOD PRODUCTS.

Perhaps incorporating karela (bitter melon) in a brine? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ammonium_chloride

  • 2
    As for the concentration, in Germany if a product intended for human consumption has 8% or more of ammonium chloride, it cannot be sold outside of a pharmacy. So the Haribo salmiak candy has 7.99% ammonium chloride, and is readily available everywhere you can get candy. It is a very common taste agent in Skandinavia (there is a Finnish vodka with salmiakki flavor), and certainly considered a food ingredient.
    – rumtscho
    Sep 5 '14 at 15:01
  • The concentration I listed came from pubchem, which is peer-reviewed, but I should mention the ppm requirements are for the US. Sep 5 '14 at 15:06

Just because the word "salt" is in the name does not mean it is meant to be edible by humans. In chemistry, the term refers to the product of a neutralization reaction between an acid and a base. These will take many forms and are, in general, inedible.
I would not use an unknown compound just because it is in an ingredient list. After all, silicon dioxide is in many foods as an "anti-caking agent," but laymen commonly call it "sand."

The answer to your question is no, I can find no instances of it being used in cooking or recipes.

  • But ammonium chloride is not unknown, it's a food ingredient. And not in the sense of "anti caking agent" or similar.
    – rumtscho
    Sep 2 '14 at 6:13
  • It is actually used in food, even to add salty taste in Salty Liquorice. Sep 2 '14 at 9:31
  • @MisterMetaphor I realize that the wiki article you have about salty liqourice talks about this quaternary ammonium salt as an ingredient. Remember the wiki stuff is not ALWAYS cited with ultra-reliable sources...(sometimes the articles are, but it can be difficult to tell with something like this salty liqourice) The specific process of inclusion of the salt is not outlined anywhere I can find. I hope dearly that the ammonium (NH4) is somehow removed prior to human consumption through it's manufacturing. This candy doesn't seem to be readily sold in the US, for which I am glad. Sep 5 '14 at 14:40
  • @LittleWhiteLithe - No, it's still there in salmiakki, which is very much an acquired taste. I can't find any recipes from a Google search. Nov 24 '15 at 22:17

Naturally occurring Ammonium Chloride is vey safe in small quantities indeed it is useful for human consumption and in some Asian countries it is used to treat Liver diseases its called Naushadar in India and in Europe Norway, Sweeden, Gemrany it is used in candies as salmiak or Salty Licorice. (Its Not available in US, US Salmiak Candies are made with Sugar) So why not with fish, it can be used to make it salty and sour flavor, but must be used in small quantities.

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