X-ray of squid ink: the natural dye that ‘prevents’ aging

Squid ink is not a simple condiment that gives color to pasta or rice, several studies have analyzed the potential of its components.

Black rice with squid ink.

The black color is a rarity in the world of food: only some olives and blackberries have this color naturally. The rest of foods with this coloration are usually due to the action of people: either we have dyed it, or it has been burned. Undoubtedly, the most traditional way in Spain to give dishes a black color is by adding squid ink to the recipe —or baby squid or cuttlefish—.

Although we can think a priori that black food can generate mistrust or even rejection in consumers, many of these dishes are praised in our country. Two good examples of them are black rice and baby squid in their ink. But,is the color black a purely aesthetic issue Or does squid ink really contribute something to our body?

Yes, the squid ink not only provides a peculiar color but also increases the amount of nutrients in a dish and helps enhance its flavor. As is well known, squid and other cephalopods are capable of generating black ink and releasing it at the right time. Precisely, they do it when they feel threatened or when they want to warn their companions that there is a nearby danger.

What’s in the ink?

When these cephalopods release this ink into the sea, a large dark spot forms around them and thanks to her they can sneak more easily. The black ink of the squid is stored in an elongated bag that connects with the anus of the animal and, in turn, with the siphon through which it finally comes out. The reason why this secretion is black is the high proportion of melanin it contains.

This same substance is found in our skin, our hair or our eyes and is what gives it color. In fact, when we sunbathe in summer this substance is the one that is stimulated and which is responsible for the tan color we get. In any case, squid ink also contains other substances that give it a thicker texture and certain nutritional properties that are considered healthy.

What makes the ink of these cephalopods have a slimy texture is the animal’s own mucus. But, in addition, this condiment has more micronutrients than we might expect: it is a solution rich in enzymes, in amino acids and also in a substance known as glutamic acid. This last molecule is capable of enhancing the flavor of food and, therefore, its use in gastronomy is not merely aesthetic.

the science of ink

The properties of squid ink have interested several groups of scientists in the world. For example, several dermatological researchers at the Southern Medical University in Guangdong Province, China, published a study in 2020 showing that polysaccharides from squid ink reduced oxidative damage in major connective tissue cells. These damages are one of the main causes of skin aging.

These same polysaccharides turned out to be of great help in a study with mice from the Ocean University of China, in the province of Qingdao. According to the authors of the study, this substance improved the state of the microbiota of the mice who had suffered from gastrointestinal inflammations and infections due to the damage that anticancer drugs can cause.

In addition to the ink, the meat of the squid —and that of other cephalopods— has very interesting nutritional characteristics for health. It is a low-calorie meat: Every 100 grams of this food contains about 80 kilocalories, according to the Spanish Nutrition Foundation (FEN). It stands out for its high protein content and its good quality, in addition to the presence of heart-healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids.

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