If you've taken a peek through Instagram recently, one thing is clear: Black food is everywhere. Perhaps a goth response to the ubiquity of unicorn lattes and rainbow bagels, dyeing foods a deep, inky black has become one of the year's biggest food trends. Activated charcoal, the ingredient that creates this "super-black" hue, has made its way into coconut ash ice cream, detoxifying lemonades, pizza crusts, and boozy cocktails that are as black as your cold, dark soul.
Activated charcoal, also known as activated carbon or coconut ash, has long been a staple in hospitals, where it is used to prevent poisons and lethal overdoses of drugs from being absorbed by the body. It's a potent detoxifier, which has also helped activated charcoal attract an ardent following among the crunchy juice-cleanse types, who claim that the supplement (usually taken in pill form, though the powder can be mixed into a glass of water) can do everything from preventing hangovers to mitigating the side effects of food poisoning.
The idea of charcoal as a detoxifier isn't going away anytime soon, but consumers are now more interested in charcoal-tinted ice cream and pizza because it makes for excellent Instagram fodder. The black ice cream from shops like Morgenstern's in New York City and Los Angeles' Little Damage have been posted to social media thousands of times, along with inspiring countless copycats at ice cream shops across the country. This time, the craze isn't necessarily attributed to activated charcoal's purported health benefits. Instead, the appeal is directly attributed to the fact that black-hued dishes are relatively rare and unique — and also happen to look really, really cool.
Still, as the trend has grown, a number of articles have raised concerns about whether or not activated charcoal is safe to consume. There's been a little bit of fearmongering regarding the ingredient, like pieces at Self and BoingBoing that warn people to "definitely avoid" foods dyed black with activated charcoal because they're "not safe."
As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, between the natural health evangelists and complete skeptics. If consumed in excessive amounts, activated charcoal can cause some adverse health effects — but definitely it isn't as "dangerous" as some might believe.