Squid ink is a popular ingredient in Mediterranean and Japanese cuisine.

It adds a distinct black-blue color and rich savory taste to dishes.

However, you may wonder what exactly this ingredient is and whether you should eat it.

This article explains what squid ink is and reviews its potential benefits and safety.

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Squid ink, also known as cephalopod ink, is a dark ink produced by squid.

It serves as a defense mechanism, helping the animal escape from predators by obscuring their view (1).

The ink contains many compounds, including melanin, enzymes, polysaccharides, catecholamines (hormones), metals like cadmium, lead, and copper, as well as amino acids, such as glutamate, taurine, alanine, leucine, and aspartic acid (1, 2).

The main compound in squid ink is melanin, which is the pigment responsible for the ink’s dark color. It also occurs in humans and determines your skin color (1).

Humans have used squid ink for centuries, including in traditional medicine, writing, art, cosmetics, and as a food additive (1).

Today, it’s mainly used as a food additive in pasta, rice, and sauces in many Japanese and Mediterranean dishes due to its unique dark color and rich, savory flavor.

Summary Squid ink is a dark ink that squids produce as a defense mechanism. It contains many unique compounds, including melanin, and has a variety of uses, including culinary ones.

Squid ink has been associated with various potential health benefits.

May have antimicrobial properties

Test-tube and animal studies indicate that this ink has antimicrobial properties, which may enable it to neutralize harmful bacteria and viruses (3, 4).

For example, a test-tube study found that squid ink extract was effective at neutralizing bacteria that commonly cause dental plaques, such as Streptococcus mutans, Actinomyces viscosus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Candida albicans (5).

Another test-tube study showed that squid ink compounds were able to neutralize bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses, such as Escherichia coli and Listeria Monocytogenes (6).

May have antioxidant effects

Research suggests that squid ink has potent antioxidant properties (7).

Antioxidants are compounds that fight potentially harmful molecules called free radicals. If free radical levels become too high in your body, they can cause cellular damage and increase your risk of chronic illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes (8).

Several test-tube and animal studies indicate that these squid ink antioxidant properties come from polysaccharides, which are long chains of conjoined sugar molecules that have been found to protect against free radicals (9, 10, 11).

May help fight cancer

Some evidence suggests that squid ink has anticancer properties.

Test-tube studies observe that the ink may reduce tumor size and the spreading of cancerous cells. These anticancer properties appear to be linked to the ink’s strong antioxidant properties.

More specifically, test-tube studies have found that squid ink proteins and polysaccharides may suppress the growth of breast, lung, and prostate cancer cells (12, 13, 14, 15).

In addition, animal studies note that squid ink polysaccharides may protect against potential damage from chemotherapy drugs (10, 16, 17).

While these findings are promising, human studies in this area are lacking, and more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.

Other potential benefits

Here are more potential health benefits of squid ink:

  • May reduce blood pressure. Test-tube research shows that squid ink contains compounds that may help blood vessels dilate, which improves blood pressure (18).
  • May combat stomach ulcers. Animal studies indicate that the ink may reduce stomach acid production, which may protect against stomach ulcers (19, 20, 21).
  • May boost immunity. One animal study found that squid ink promoted the growth and development of immune cells and enhanced overall immunity compared with a control solution (22).
Summary Squid ink has been linked to a variety of health benefits in test-tube and animal studies. However, more human studies on these benefits are needed before strong conclusions can be made.

Squid ink has been used for centuries for many purposes.

Traditionally, it was used in Chinese medicine to treat heart and blood issues. In addition, it was widely used during the 19th century for writing, drawing, and painting (1, 23).

Today, it’s mainly used as an ingredient in cooking.

It is most commonly utilized in Mediterranean and Japanese cuisine, where its dark color and savory taste help enhance the flavor and appeal of sauces, as well as pasta and rice dishes.

Squid ink’s savory properties come from its high content of glutamate, which is an amino acid that’s also an umami compound. Foods high in glutamate have a savory umami taste (1).

If you would like to try squid ink, you can harvest the ink sac from a whole squid. Alternatively, for a more convenient product, you can purchase bottled or packaged squid ink in specialty stores or online.

Because it has a rich savory taste, you only need to add a few teaspoons to your dishes.

It’s worth noting that most commercially sold squid ink is cuttlefish ink. This is because cuttlefish ink has a richer, more palatable flavor. Therefore, to get your hands on squid ink, make sure to properly read the labels of the product you purchase (1).

Summary Squid ink has many traditional uses. Today, it’s mostly used in cooking. It has a rich savory taste, so you only need to use small amounts.

Squid ink is a safe food additive that can help enhance the flavor of your dishes.

Though it has been linked to a variety of health benefits, these findings are from test-tube or animal studies only. It’s uncertain whether the same effects apply in humans.

In addition, squid ink is typically consumed in small amounts. Thus, it’s unlikely to offer significant health benefits.

Evidence is lacking to suggest that people who are allergic to shellfish may experience symptoms when ingesting squid ink. Nonetheless, you may want to err on the side of caution if you have this kind of allergy.

Summary Squid ink is a safe food additive that can add flavor to your dishes. However, it’s unlikely to have significant health benefits to humans, as it’s consumed in small amounts.

Squid ink is a dark ink produced by squid as a defense mechanism.

It has many culinary uses and contains unique compounds.

Test-tube and animal studies link the ink to health benefits, but human research is lacking. Plus, the small amounts typically used are unlikely to benefit your health.

Nonetheless, squid ink can add flavor and variety to your dishes, so you may want to give it a try for its unique culinary properties.