Charcoal/ash in food (intentionally)

Has the charcoal/ash in food trend reached your town yet?

The first time I saw charcoal in food was some bamboo charcoal coated peanuts at an Asian supermarket. I was curious so I tried them. They were OK, but not something I’d crave. A local vegan frozen dessert maker is making a salty caramel activated charcoal flavor -

At best I suppose it’s no worse as a health or food fad than kombucha or adding turmeric to everything. At worst - if grilling steaks over open flame can lead to over-ingestion of cancer-causing carcinogens, how could eating charcoal possibly be a good idea? (When not medically necessary to treat poisoning or overdose.)

What do you think? Have you been trying to get more charcoal in your diet?

There sure seem to be a lot of people throwing their steaks directly into the coals to cook them “caveman style”. Does that count?

Activated charcoal is a health nut thing, but that ice cream doesn’t look that healthy. It looks more like something they scraped off a car chassis.

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Le Cendrillon is a goat cheese made in Quebec with an ash covering. I don’t know that the ash added much to the cheese for me.

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Oh yeah, that reminds me. Ash has been used in cheesemaking for a long time. It’s not rare to see ash covered goat cheese like the Cendrillion mentioned above. Morbier is recognizable by its black ash line.


Oh yeah, totally forgot about ash in cheese. I guess I’ve been eating it all along!

A restaurant near me with aspirations to Michelin stardom included on the tasting menu a dish called “ox in coal oil” - actually a beef tartare in the oil. It became the restaurant’s signature dish and was loved by one and all. Except us. Tried it twice - just to be sure we didnt like it.

Third time asked for it to be swapped or left out of the meal.

Them - “You don’t want it? That’s Simon’s signature dish. It’s always on the menu.”

Us - “Yeah, and it’s always a bit nasty.”

OK, not charcoal or ash but certainly weird shit to do with carbon.


I think I’ve spent so.much of my time in the kitchen trying NOT to have ash or charcoal as an end product that the thought of doing it on purpose makes my teeth itch.

Yet another case deriving from some half-added cook who burned something (or dropped cigarette ash on something) and tried to justify it as cutting edge.


King’s Kitchen, a Cantonese place on E B’way in Manhattan serves “healthy charcoal rice.” It’s the least trendy place imaginable.

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Ash, as in the small amounts coating a cheese is basically harmless and has a mild preservative action. Ash is different in its effects from charcoal.

The amount of carcinogenics in a charred steak has been proven to be small, and with little chance of causing cancer.

Serving a food using activated charcoal and calling it “healthy” is actually illegal. You cannot make health claims like that without it being proved to the FDA, etc. And then it becomes a medication, and must be treated as such. That’s why all the laws were created back in the early 1900’s, to prevent all the nostrums being packaged by “snake oil salesmen”.

But activated charcoal in foods and drinks, is ‘actively’ dangerous. A group of us in the beverage/bar industry have been ‘actively’ working to educate people as to the dangers of some of the ingredients that are being used by people who have no training, and have done no research. Activated charcoal can negate the effects of many medications and affect birth control, blood pressure, heart conditions, etc.

Activated charcoal should not be used in any food or beverage. It is basically a medication, with side effects and contraindications.

There are quite a few things being used as ingredients that are unsafe. In drinks, besides the activated charcoal trend, there is the use of tobacco (nicotine poisoning can kill), leather (chemicals used in tanning are highly toxic, marijuana (no dosage control and illegal), certain bittering herbs, Cinchona/Quinine, Tonka beans, etc.


@JMF thanks for the links.

I don’t think the frozen dessert makers are making any outright health claims, instead appealing to an audience who thinks that if charcoal is helpful in extreme cases (overdose, poisoning), then a little bit ought to help with that hangover or whatever “cleanse” is popular this week. Which can be a dangerous assumption to make. (I’m highly skeptical of cleanses. You want to clean out your intestines? A nice big bowl of dal generally does the trick). This is a vegan shop and they also have a turmeric flavor, another “healthy” ingredient that is suddenly in everything. People do love when foods do doubly duty - superfoods, anyone?

I would quibble with a few things in the Imbibe link - if meat fat is rendered out by cooking, e. coli should have been killed. It could still go bad or rancid of course. And washing your fruits - well yeah, bartenders should have a food handler’s permit and play safe, duh. As for cannabis cuisine, which is legal here in WA - regulations vary from state to state but here we are not at the point where a regular bar/restaurant could legally use cannabis ingredients. It is highly regulated and you can be a producer or a retailer but not both. Flower has very explicit labeling as to the harvest date and different forms of THC, edibles and extracts are labeled with the dose. A lot of people have asked me if I would make chocolates with cannabis. While that could be fun, if I wanted to do it legally there would be too many hoops to jump through. It’s hard enough finding kitchen space for my dessert business, much less an I-502 approved facility with clean room.

There are several problems that arise with fat washing. One, many times the meat isn’t fully cooked and I have seen people use not just the fat, but the meat as well. Two, I have seen folks, experts, let a bottle of fat washed booze sit at room temp for months… An invitation for food poisoning. Three, people fat wash anything and everything, without thinking it through. Peanut butter, bananas, browned butter, avocados, cheese, etc. without using heat. All perfect mediums for bacterial growth, even if kept chilled. Four, they don’t know what they are doing in the process, or afterwards as to safe storage and shelf life. Five, a plethora of other stuff. (Sorry, just wanted to write a quick response.)

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This was just written and released by someone in the group I belong too that researches and publicizes crazy stuff in the food/beverage industry. The article focuses on activated charcoal in cocktails, but can be extrapolated to foods. Especially the section that talks about what and when you eat.

That link sends me to some crazy URL that asks for my Facebook login even though I’m already logged into Facebook.

Weird. I click on it and it takes me to the pdf for the article.

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    Activated Charcoal Cocktails: What’s the (Potential) Problem?
    Bill Copen
    May 20, 2017
    Activated charcoal (AC) is produced industrially by exposing charcoal to steam or hot air, which
    erodes the charcoal, and causes it to develop many microscopic pores. These pores give AC an
    extremely high surface area; a single gram of AC has about the same surface area as 3 or 4 tennis
    AC’s high surface area makes it very good at adsorbing (note the “d”) other substances. This
    basically means that things bind to the surface of the AC, and get stuck there. For example, ACcontaining
    filters are used in vodka production to trap and remove dissolved compounds that
    impart unwanted flavors.
    Doctors in emergency rooms sometimes use AC to treat patients who have swallowed poisons, or
    who have overdosed on an oral medication. In these situations, the patient either swallows AC, or
    has AC delivered into his or her stomach through a tube. The drug or poison in the patient’s
    stomach binds to the surface of the AC and gets stuck there, so that it can’t be absorbed (note the
    “b”) into the patient’s bloodstream, and it can’t make the patient sick. Eventually, the AC and the
    adsorbed toxin pass through and out of the intestines, and the toxin is eliminated.
    The potential problem for bartenders is that the same thing happens when you serve your guest a
    drink containing AC. The AC in your cocktail can adsorb other substances that your guest
    swallowed previously (or will swallow subsequently), and prevent those substances from entering
    into your guest’s bloodstream. An AC-containing cocktail could block the body’s absorption of
    food nutrients, dietary supplements, or, most importantly, medications.
    AC’s ability to block the absorption of a medication, and therefore the danger that an AC drink
    might pose to your guest, may depend on three factors: which medication your guest takes, the
    amount of AC that you put in your drink, and the amount of time between taking the medication
    and ingesting the AC.
    Factor 1: Which medication?
    AC adsorbs some molecules more effectively than others. For the chemically inclined, some rules
    of thumb are that AC tends to bind more avidly to relatively large, organic, nonpolar, poorly watersoluble
    molecules. Smaller, inorganic, and more polar molecules tend to be adsorbed less
    effectively. Highly dissociated salts are very poorly adsorbed.
    Most medications are bound by AC to some degree. In 2005, the American Academy of Clinical
    Toxicologists and the European Association of Poison Centres and Clinical Toxicologists released
    this official position statement about AC:
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    The first appendix of that position paper summarizes the results of numerous human studies,
    involving almost 50 different drugs. There’s a huge amount of information in that appendix, but
    the bottom line is that AC was able to significantly block the absorption of almost every drug on
    the list. There are a few drugs, like lithium carbonate, that are not effectively bound by AC at all.
    But, realistically, when your guest orders an AC-containing drink from your menu, you’re not
    going to ask them to name all the medications that they’re taking, so you can check them against
    a list. You’ll have to assume that, if your guest takes any medications, their effectiveness may be
    diminished by AC.
    Two additional points about what AC does and doesn’t do: (1) It adsorbs almost no alcohol. Your
    guest will not get any less drunk because you put AC in his or her drink. (2) The internet is full of
    claims that AC is, in general, a healthy thing to eat, because it somehow purifies the body, or
    “eliminates toxins.” These claims are false, unless you’re in the habit of eating poison regularly.
    In that case, taking an AC capsule at the same time as the poison might help to prevent your body
    from absorbing some of the poison. However, just don’t eat poison.
    Factor 2: How much activated charcoal?
    Doctors usually use a dose of 50 grams of AC to treat drug overdoses. The amounts of AC that are
    used to color cocktails are much smaller. I’ve found recipes on the internet that work out to
    approximately 280 to 1,700 milligrams of AC per drink, assuming conversion factors of 10 grams
    per tablespoon of AC, and 280 mg per capsule. This raises the question of whether the small
    amounts of AC that are used in cocktails are enough to cause any significant problems with
    medication absorption.
    Scientists think of this question in terms of the ratio of the amount of AC to the amount of drug.
    For example, the 50g AC dose that is used to treat drug overdoses is based on the goal of blocking
    the absorption of up to 5g of an unwanted drug, and on a longstanding assumption that an AC:drug
    ratio of about 10:1 is high enough.
    The graph that I’m posting as “Figure 1” is copied from an influential scientific paper that was
    published in 2009. It combines the data from many previously performed studies, and basically
    shows how much a person’s absorption of a drug is reduced by various AC:drug ratios. For
    example, if the ratio is 10:1, you can expect to the drug’s effectiveness to be reduced by about
    53%. If the ratio is 100:1, the drug’s expected effectiveness would be reduced by 88%. Note that
    this graph lumps together previous studies that looked at many different medications, even though
    medications are adsorbed by AC with widely varying effectiveness.
    This graph is important for the charcoal-wielding bartender for two reasons. First, it shows how
    much you can reduce AC’s dangers just by reducing the amount of AC that you use. If your guest
    takes a 100mg dose of a medication, and you serve them a cocktail with 1.5 g of AC in it, you can
    expect to reduce the medication’s effectiveness by up to 62%. But if you lower the amount of AC
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    in your drink to 280mg (one capsule), you’ll only reduce the medication’s effectiveness by up to
    about 25%.
    Second, the graph shows that the medication-blocking effect of AC is strongly dependent on the
    potency of the medication that your guest takes. “High-potency” medications, like the
    antidepressant Lexapro, require only small doses to have their desired effects; a typical dose of
    Lexapro might be 10 mg. “Low-potency” drugs, like the antibiotic Cipro, require larger doses; a
    typical dose of Cipro would be 500 mg. If you
    serve a drink with 1 g of AC to a guest who takes
    10 mg of Lexapro, you have an AC:drug ratio of
    100:1, and the medication’s effectiveness could be
    reduced by up to 88%. But serving that drink to a
    patient taking Cipro results in a ratio of 2:1, and
    only a 24% reduction of the medication’s expected
    It is very important to recognize that Figure 1
    assumes that your guest takes their medication and
    drinks your drink at almost exactly the same time.
    In the real world, however, most people don’t bring
    their pills to the bar and wash them down with a cocktail. AC’s ability to block medication
    absorption decreases when the AC and the drug are swallowed at different times. This issue will
    be covered in the next section.
    Factor 3: Timing
    AC can only adsorb what it can touch. If your guest takes a pill and drinks your charcoal cocktail
    at the exactly same time, then the pill and the AC will slosh around together in the guest’s stomach
    for a while, and subsequently begin the long journey through the guest’s intestines together. This
    gives the AC a lot of time to contact and adsorb the medication in the pill. On the other hand, if
    your guest takes the pill several hours before or after drinking your cocktail, the pill and the AC
    will spend less time together in the guest’s stomach and intestines. If the time difference is big
    enough, their journeys won’t overlap at all, and there will be no adsorption.
    Scientists have studied how AC’s adsorption of medication depends on the timing of AC ingestion,
    mostly because emergency room doctors need to know when giving AC to an overdose patient
    won’t be helpful. Most doctors won’t use AC to treat overdoses that happened more than 2-4 hours
    before the patient’s arrival in the hospital, because the potential benefits of the treatment are small,
    and are outweighed by its risks.
    Figure 2 is a graph that I’ve copied from a 2011 scientific paper, in which the authors assembled
    results from the previous studies that were listed in the 2005 position paper that I mentioned above,
    and made a graph of how much AC blocked medication absorption when it was given at various
    times after medication ingestion. On the y-axis, “AUC” refers to the area under the serum
    concentration versus time curve, which is the usual way of measuring medication effectiveness in
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    these studies, and “%” refers to how much of the medication’s intended effectiveness is achieved
    despite the effect of the AC.
    You can’t draw many firm conclusions from this
    graph, because it includes studies of almost 50
    different medications, and very widely varying doses
    of AC, ranging from 0.5g to 50g. What you can see,
    however, is that the maximum amount by which AC
    can block medication effectiveness decreases as the
    time between swallowing the medication and
    swallowing the AC gets longer.
    You can look up individual studies in the position
    paper that I’ve linked to, and see how much a
    particular dose of AC was found to block the effectiveness of a particular medication, after a
    particular time interval. However, I recommend caution when interpreting these results, because
    the rates at which food and liquids move through the digestive tract vary dramatically.
    Here’s why: The stomach is basically an expandable holding tank, whose job is to store whatever
    food and liquids that you swallow, and release them into your intestine at a controlled rate that the
    intestine can handle. If your stomach is empty, and you swallow only liquids, then those liquids
    will pass into your small intestine immediately, and rapidly. You may have noticed this, the last
    time you drank alcohol on an empty stomach. However, if you eat solid food, your stomach hangs
    onto that food for about 20 or 30 minutes, liquefying it so that your intestines can work with it,
    before beginning to send it on its way. It then takes about 2.5 to 3 hours for your stomach to empty
    half of its contents, and about 4 or 5 hours for it to empty itself completely. Stuffing your stomach
    with a larger meal means that your stomach will take longer to empty, because its job is to deliver
    its contents to the intestine at approximately the same controlled rate no matter how much you eat.
    Stomach emptying occurs even more slowly when you eat fatty food. That’s because your intestine
    needs more time to digest fat, so it sends a signal to your stomach to slow down the delivery rate.
    I’ve seen studies where the stomach’s emptying time after a high-fat meal was about double that
    of its emptying time after a low-fat meal.
    The human volunteer studies that I’ve seen generally try to achieve consistency among their
    volunteers, by asking them to fast before the study, and take both the medication and the AC on
    an empty stomach. That means their volunteers’ stomachs were emptying about as quickly as they
    possibly could.
    Many of the guests in your bar won’t be drinking on an empty stomach. However, the implications
    of that for their safety depend on the order in which they arrange their dining and imbibing
    activities. The worst-case scenario would be if your guest eats a large, fatty meal, then sits down
    at your bar, orders a charcoal-containing drink, and takes a pill while drinking it. In that case, it
    might take 6 or 8 hours for the guest’s fat-engorged stomach to empty completely, and the AC will
    be sitting in there adsorbing medication the whole time. Even if that guest waits a little while
    between taking the pill and drinking your drink, that slowly-emptying stomach will probably make
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    the medical-blocking situation worse than if the guest had literally washed the pill down with your
    drink on an empty stomach.
    The best-case scenario would be if your guest takes a pill on an empty stomach, waits at least half
    an hour or so, then eats a big fatty meal and drinks your drink. In that case, the pill will have
    slipped out of the guest’s stomach before they even sit down at your bar, and the fatty meal will
    make their stomach act like a road block. It will hold up the AC, and stop it from catching up with
    the pill in the intestines.
    Because there are so many different ways a guest might combine big meals, small meals, drinking
    cocktails, and taking pills, I think it’s difficult to make blanket statements about how much time
    between an AC cocktail and taking a pill is enough time. The fact that different people’s digestive
    systems move at different speeds makes the situation even more complicated. In my opinion, for
    the vast majority of basically healthy people, an interval of about 8 to 10 hours should be enough
    to ensure that there’s no significant medication adsorption, no matter what your guest ate or will
    Conclusions and real-world implications
    For reference, this table shows the results of all the studies in the AACT/EAPCCT position paper
    that used very small amounts of AC, like the amounts that you might use in a cocktail:
    Drug and Dose AC Dose Delay Percent Reduction in Drug
    Ciprofloxacin, 500mg 1g < 5 min 10.0
    Disopyramide, 200mg 2.5g < 5 min 59.0 and 77.4 (2 studies)
    Indomethacin, 50mg 2.5g < 5 min 65.2
    Mefenamic acid, 500mg 2.5g 60 min 36.0
    Phenylpropanolamine, 50 mg 500mg No delay 47.5
    Salicylamide, 1000mg 1.5g No delay 22.4
    Salicylate, 500mg 2.5g < 5 min 30.2
    Salicylate, 1000mg 1.9g No delay 12.3
    Sulphadoxine, 1500mg 2g 5 min 46.8
    Tolfenamic acid, 200mg 2.5g < 5 min 96.5
    Trimethoprim, 200mg 2.5g < 5 min 90.8
    You can try to extrapolate from these results, and predict what might happen in real-world
    situations. Again, use caution in doing that, because the effects of delays between medication
    ingestion and AC ingestion will vary greatly, depending on who your guest is and what he or she
    has eaten.
    Practically speaking, what will happen if your AC-containing cocktail does reduce the
    effectiveness of your guest’s medication? The very worst possible outcome would be that your
    guest effectively misses one dose of the medication (or two doses, if it’s a medication that’s taken
    several times a day). It will be as though he or she forgot to take that pill. For medications whose
    benefits accrue over a long time, like antidepressants or cholesterol-lowering drugs, that won’t
    make much of a difference. For medications that have an immediate, short-term effect, the
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    difference could be noticeable. For example, an infection might not respond as well to antibiotics,
    or the Advil that usually prevents a hangover doesn’t work as well as it usually does. For a few
    medications, missing a dose could have much more severe effects. In any case, your guest will
    probably be unaware that there are any potential risks associated with AC-containing cocktails,
    even after something bad has happened, unless you warn him or her yourself.

During the winter time when I have a nice fire burning , I have occasionally tossed a nice T bone onto the coals . I love primitive cooking .:fire: