Recently Discovered “Salty Licorice” Cat Coat Linked to Gene Mutation

Angela Vuckovic
by Angela Vuckovic
Courtesy of Ari Kankainen for Animal Genetics Journal

A new kind of kitty just dropped! Well, not exactly “just” – the unusual coat dubbed “salty licorice appeared as early as 2007 in Finland. And now, almost two decades later, a team of researchers from the University of Helsinki in Finland has discovered the true source of this unique color: a rare genetic mutation.

Fans of the pattern described it as similar to a tuxedo for cats, but with striking similarity with Finnish salty licorice, hence the name. These cats usually have dark markings on the face, and black dots over the body, with the back portion of the body and the tail often being totally white. At first, not a lot of thought was given to the source of this odd pattern, but now a team of scientists finally got to the core of the matter.

In their research, it was discovered that the pattern is connected to the variation of the KIT proto-oncogene gene, which is "associated with an absence of melanocytes in the skin and hair follicles". What is more, the variation commonly causes the white coat in many domestic cats.

Upon discovery, the research team named this trait “salmiak”, after the popular Finnish salty licorice treat. It was also concluded that the odd coat pattern appears most often in black cats, although this is not exclusive.

During the research process, the team studied DNA samples from five “salty licorice” kitties, and over 180 regular Finnish domestic cats. This was done under the supervision of the Animal Ethics Committee of the State Provincial Office of Southern Finland. 

Early in the testing, there was little success, as no variants of the KIT gene were revealed. But with hard work and dedication, the team revealed a large deletion of the gene, which could link it to the truly unique cat color. All of the five “salty licorice” cats that were tested had two copies of the gene mutation. In stark contrast, none of the other cats had this, and only three of them had a single copy of the gene mutation. 

"Our research approach is community science.” Hannes Lohi, a research team member said. “Often, the research ideas also come from cat owners and breeders having found something interesting in their pets."

Angela Vuckovic
Angela Vuckovic

A proud mama to seven dogs and ten cats, Angela spends her days writing for her fellow pet parents and pampering her furballs, all of whom are rescues. When she's not gushing over her adorable cats or playing with her dogs, she can be found curled up with a good fantasy book.

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