by Athena Abdien
Photography courtesy of Food Republic
Food comes in all shapes, sizes and even colors outside of the rainbow. Drinks that were once clear, like water, and foods that were once white, like bread, can be turned pitch black using ingredients like activated charcoal.
Although a quality Instagram of black ice cream or black bottled water is a bona-fide way to get extra likes, activated charcoal has a wide array of other benefits that have people from all age groups hooked.
“I was immediately intrigued by this black drink, especially once I realized that it was actually water,” said David Jamal (CGS ’19). “I decided to give it a try. Despite being on the expensive end, I would definitely recommend giving it a taste test to anyone who has yet to do so. The look of pitch-black water can be quite deceiving and almost a reason for people to reconsider their purchase, but in my opinion, this ingredient adds a great subtle flavor to water.”
According to EATER, activated charcoal, also referred to as coconut ashes or activated carbon, was previously utilized in hospitals as a “potent detoxifier” that rid the body of any poisons and prevented excess absorption of drugs.
It is made by “heating coconut shells to extremely high temperatures until they are carbonized, or completely burned up.” Following this step, “the resulting ash is then processed with steam or hot air at equally high temperatures to produce a ‘microporous structure.’”
Today, activated charcoal is now another component of the juice cleansing diet. Many interested in consuming the ingredient want to simultaneously lose weight and stay in shape. In addition, activated charcoal has anti-aging benefits, lowers cholesterol levels, cures hangovers, prevents food poisoning and decreases gastrointestinal distress.
Despite having perceived health benefits, there are also many controversies that plague activated charcoal.
As expected with any massive trend, there are skeptics questioning the new popularity of charcoal. College students in particular are known for living on a budget when it comes to buying household supplies like groceries and health products. Therefore, items like activated charcoal can seem frivolous.
Other critics of eating activated charcoal are more concerned with the safety factor of consumption—is activated charcoal actually safe for people to eat? If so, how much can the average person ingest before facing dangerous, if any, side effects?
“When I heard that charcoal was no longer solely used in facial cleansers, and was now being added into everyday meals like hamburgers, pizza and ice cream, I immediately refused to eat it,” said Morgan Pollard (COM ’18). “From my perspective, I wouldn’t want to ingest it because I prefer to use charcoal in a cleansing manner rather than an eating manner. It’s similar to why I wouldn’t drink my hand lotion or dip my spoon into a mud bath.”
Since activated charcoal is capable of absorption, a major concern is that the charcoal will rid the body of both toxins and non-toxins. Activated charcoal has a tendency to absorb vital nutrients, especially key vitamins and minerals like potassium and calcium. Therefore, skeptics conclude that consuming this ingredient may lead to intense malnutrition.
Those concerned with eating or drinking activated charcoal are most anxious about its effects on anyone taking daily prescription medications. The consumption of activated charcoal might completely absorb the prescription drug, thus making it ineffective.
However, critics acknowledge that the overconsumption of any food or drink can lead to harmful side effects. Activated charcoal is proven safe to eat. Therefore, like any other food, as long as one consumes charcoal in moderation, one can enjoy eating and taking as many artsy Instagrams of pitch-black coffee, pizza and ice cream as one desires.