Charcoal treats: Latest food fad may black out medications’ properties
Thursday, August 03, 2017
Over-the-top ice cream cones, rainbow bagels, unicorn Frappuccinos ... Every few months, a new food fad hits, prompting diners to share bright photos of the latest treat on their social media feeds.
Recently, however, we've seen a blackout effect. From charcoal-infused ice cream to squid ink pasta, once-colorful foods have gone pitch black. As diners look to get in on the latest craze, doctors are warning that charcoal-infused foods may have adverse health effects.
The medical properties of "activated charcoal" date back to 400 BC, with Hippocrates using it as a treatment for vertigo, anthrax and odor absorption, as well as cleansing toxins in the stomach. Fast-forwarding to today, charcoal can be found in toothpastes, facial care products and cleansers.
The Food Network is quick to point out that this charcoal isn't the kind to be found on barbecue coals. Activated charcoal is created by burning plant fibers, such as coconut husks. Most recently, it has debuted on a gourmet scale as a "superfood" for its detoxifying properties, finding itself playing a key role in the coloration of juice drinks, pizza crusts, breads, ice cream and even cocktails.
Whether or not the masses flocked toward charcoal foods for their detoxifying properties, novelty factor or just to snap a photo has yet to be determined, but it seems to be a bit of all three.
This summer, iHalo Krunch, "Toronto's first charcoal ice cream shop" opened up, with waits exceeding an hour in order to try some #GothIceCream. Using black ice cream cones (obviously made with charcoal), the shop offers six different products, including a coconut charcoal soft-serve.
On their Facebook page, they state that activated charcoal means detoxification, "but who are we kidding? It's still dessert." Not looking to present themselves as a healthy establishment, they encourage guests to "snap away" once they have purchased a treat. And with good reason! Their ice creams boast vibrant colors such as neon green and deep purple — a far cry from the traditional pastel shades of ice cream.
A recent piece in the National Post acknowledged the activated charcoal food fad for exactly what it is — a thrill worth Instagramming, as black foods are not relatively common or natural.
However, they delve into the medical properties of charcoal. Used to treat oral drug overdoses and poisoning, diners may not realize what they are eating may be interfering with prescription medicine, such as birth control pills, Benadryl and ibuprofen, to name a few. Those not on any medication, however, are unlikely to be affected.
What should diners do if they still want to get in on the craze, without meddling with their medication? Squid ink has been gaining popularity as well.
Formally known as cephalopod ink, it is a dark pigment released into water by most cephalopod species. For food preparation, the ink is extracted from sacs of a squid and used as food dye.
In Boston, a Japanese tapas restaurant called Pagu has been selling jet black lobster rolls. An innovative twist on the New England classic, the dough is infused with squid ink and sake, and uses avocado instead of butter or mayonnaise. The colors of the lobster and avocado pop on the dark roll and have been featured in social media posts.
Soon enough, people may be able to enjoy jet black foods from the comfort of their own homes. Japan's largest instant noodle company has introduced Black Seafood Cup Noodle, a just-add-water ramen that uses a packet of squid ink to dye the broth.
The company's press release calls the cup "photogenic," which no doubt encourages social media sharing. Available for $1.85 a cup, perhaps we will start to see other noodle manufacturers around the world introduce something similar.
Once someone has posted a picture of their charcoal ice cream or black lobster roll, will they want to post another photo of it a few weeks or even months later? They might already be onto the next food craze. Should activated charcoal's popularity wane with its incorporation in various foods, its medical properties will still make it useful within the healthcare field.
With social media always present, restaurants find themselves innovating to stay relevant. They still must rely on tried-and-true dishes to attract customers, even if it means partaking in a fad or two to attract new diners (and Instagrammers).
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