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Fade to Black: Using Activated Charcoal

Fade to Black: Using Activated Charcoal

Activated Charcoal Lemonade 2

We often associate vibrant colors with health: the hearty green of kale and lettuce, the rich indigo of ripe blueberries, the impossibly deep crimson of red beets. But a newcomer to the health food scene goes a different direction, a darker direction – pure, opaque black. Activated charcoal (also referred to as “activated carbon”) has been popping up here and there on nutrition-related blogs and Instagram feeds for the past year, sparking curiosity and sometimes bewilderment among observers. Is that the same stuff that’s in my water filter and poison treatment and drug overdose medications?

Yes, it turns out. The same absorbent properties of activated charcoal that filters toxins from water and air (and the intestinal tract, in the case of poisoning), are believed by some to have similarly detoxification benefits in the body when consumed as food.  This falls squarely into the “statement has not been endorsed by the FDA” territory, but there is a growing amount of research and evidence that there may be some real advantages to activated charcoal. This is, of course, not the same charcoal that’s used in your outdoor BBQ; activated charcoal is made from compressed carbon, often coconut shells or bamboo. You can purchase food grade bags or jars of the stuff online or from health food markets.

There is a recipe for lemonade with activated charcoal in Maria Koutsogiannis’ story “Weights Before Dates,” in our Spring issue and this got us wondering what other culinary uses there are for activated charcoal. There are plenty of health and beauty applications, such as facial masks and teeth whitening, but how else can you cook with this stuff?

Frosting dye

To make deep black frosting, a small amount of food grade activated charcoal can be added to any icing recipe as a natural food dye. A tiny bit will create a shade of grey, and a teaspoon or more will turn the batch inky black. This could be extra useful around Halloween, or anytime you’d like black frosting without the use of synthetic food coloring.

Black Cake

Similarly, you can dye a white or vanilla cake batter to make a stunning black dessert (for a goth birthday party, perhaps?). A teaspoon is all you need to achieve the ebony hue, and the charcoal doesn’t impart any flavor, so you needn’t worry about a strange tasting cake.

Activated Charcoal Ice Cream

For another dramatic dessert, you can use activated charcoal to make black-as-night homemade ice cream. Again, there is no discernible flavor, just a stunning presentation, especially when colorful garnishes are added.

Cocktail Ingredient

Activated charcoal makes appearances in a lot of juice blends, but would make an equally interesting addition to a boozy cocktail. Try this recipe for the mysteriously named “X” cocktail as a good jumping off point into the dark universe of charcoal spiked beverages.

Photos by Maria Koutsogiannis

From Maria Koutsogiannis’ story “Weights Before Dates: A Real Food Refuel with Friends”


Emily Kovach is the Web Editor at Spoonful Magazine. She’s a fan of oysters, dumplings, nearly every kind of cheese, hoppy beers, and gin cocktails. While she’s intrigued by the incredible food scene in her hometown of Philadelphia, her favorite meals are at home, shared on the back porch with her cozy little family and their dog Jacket.

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