Hormuz is a small island in the Persian Gulf a few miles off the coast of Iran. The island is a salt dome, and the soil that covers it comes in a rainbow of colors, giving Hormuz the nickname “Rainbow Island.” The most notable is the red soil, called gelak, which is the only one considered edible. Gelak doesn’t make up the majority of any dish, but is powdered and used as a spice of sorts. It works as a colorant, giving the condiment sooragh its pleasant red color. Sooragh itself is used in other foods, such as a flatbread called tomshi. Gelak gets its red hue from iron in the soil, which contributes to its nutritional reputation. Why is it the only colored soil used in cooking? The others have been tried, and they don’t taste good. Fair enough.
Gelak was once mined commercially for use in paints and dyes, but that is now banned due to the environmental degradation it caused. But local painters, cooks, and tourists can still take some for personal use. Read about the Rainbow Island, gelak, and the Iranian dishes made with it at Atlas Obscura.
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