From the many dessert recipes chocolatier Devon James Roberts concocted at his small St. George, Utah, confectionary company, one is especially striking to the eye: a creamy, jet-black gelato called Sailor’s Vanilla. Try a scoop, and you’ll taste the vanilla, sure, but also something sea-salty and fishy. That flavor comes from the ebony frozen treat’s other key ingredient: squid ink.
A squid uses its ink as an obfuscating, defensive spray to escape predators, or even secretes it along with mucus (Roberts’ squid ink, pleasantly, is mucus free) as a “pseudomorph,” a decoy false-body shape roughly the same size as the squid, which predators have been seen attacking while the decapod makes its getaway.
The blackish ink of cephalopods such as the octopus or the squid has been utilized by humans long before Roberts mixed it into gelato. As the name suggests, it has been used for writing ink or as a dye. The brownish color we call sepia, for instance, gets its name from the Greek word for cuttlefish.
Culinary squid ink is taken from the dead creature’s ink sacs as the flesh is being prepared for eating. In addition to gelato, it also serves as a flavoring agent in savory sauces or pastas.