Overshadowing the playful colours of unicorn foods, the black food trend has lit up the food scene and keeps rising in popularity as anything from drinks, to ice creams and even burgers have taken a darker twist.
Before this trend, having your food compared to charcoal would have been an insult. Now kitchen professionals are serving up charcoal foods and we’re loving it.
Activated charcoal is often used as an ingredient to add flavour (and colour), but it is also credited with many health benefits.
While charcoal has been around for many years, it has grown in popularity as executive chef at Tintswalo Atlantic in Hout Bay Guy Clark explains: “Charcoal has been used for thousands of years and it is definitely being revived.
“Charcoal is primarily carbon, not to be confused with braai charcoal (and) like any ingredient, it is safe in moderation.
“There are many uses, from teeth whitening, prevention of poisoning and helping with flatulence.
“Others also feel that it is a great cleansing ingredient.”
Clark says charcoal is great for using in the kitchen or counterbalancing certain foods.
“We find that ash/charcoal brings an earthy note to a rich dish or great texture to some vegetables, like cauliflower.
“Leeks produce the best charcoal. We clean and julienne the leek root, then cook it at 350ºC until (it is) completely black, then we spice-grind it to a fine powder.”
“My dog once ate an entire bag of composting yeast - I gave him four tablets and he was absolutely fine.”
Janine van Zyl, owner of Cold Gold Artisan Ice Cream and Sorbet in Stellenbosch says their black liquorice ice cream was an instant hit. She explains the process of making black ice cream: “charcoal is made from coal, wood, or other substances”.
“It becomes ‘activated charcoal’ when high temperatures combine with a gas or activating agent to expand its surface area.
“Coconut ash is the charred and processed remains of a coconut shell, but it is not available in South Africa.
“(At Cold Gold) we add just the correct amount (of charcoal) to the ice cream, which is still healthy for (consumption) as too much can cause an upset stomach.
“A few years ago, I made licorice ice cream (without charcoal). I wanted to make it again and asked myself how I could make it black more naturally.
“I had an idea to use activated charcoal when I drank some and the idea just stuck.”
While there are conflicting reports about the health benefits of the trend, registered dietitian at the Heart and Stroke Foundation Gabriel Eksteen says there’s no scientific research to substantiate any negative or positive health benefits.
“Activated charcoal has long been used as an emergency medication to clear the gastrointestinal tract after ingesting certain poisons or a drug overdose,” says Eksteen.
“This typically means a once-off large dosage, while trendy foods coloured with charcoal contain far smaller amounts.
“The medical use of charcoal can have significant side-effects, and even smaller dosages may impede the absorption of medications or other nutrients within food.
“There is virtually no scientific research to substantiate any health benefits claimed with regular ingestion, nor to assure consumers of the safety of regular consumption.”
Eksteen adds: “This does not mean it is without benefit, but that is untested and therefore cannot be recommended.
“The notion that adding one ‘magical’ ingredient can turn an otherwise unhealthy food into a healthy food is a poor fad, either way.”