Charcoal food may be trending, but is it tasty?

Snaps of dramatic black dishes made with a sprinkling of edible veg charcoal powder are flooding the internet. Hilary Biller taste tests the trend

09 July 2017 - 00:02 By Hilary Biller

When SA's top food stylist Maranda Engelbrecht used charcoal powder in a food feature, and the Fresh Earth Food Store in Emmarentia, Johannesburg, added a charcoal hamburger to its menu, I was intrigued to find out more.
"Activated charcoal is not the stuff you use in your braai," wrote cookbook author Daniel Jardim in a recent Sunday Times Lifestyle article. "It's a purified form of charcoal that's made from coal treated at high temperatures."
Although activated charcoal has long been used medicinally to treat flatulence and upset tummies, it's recent spike in popularity is as a detox aid. The dramatic colour it imparts to food has inspired chefs to play around with it in the kitchen too.
Matthew Ballenden, nutritional chef and owner of Fresh Earth Food Store, cautions that although magical detoxing properties are attributed to activated charcoal, the charcoal, once ingested, is unable to differentiate between toxins and nutrients and the body will not absorb all the good nutrition when charcoal is part of the meal.
It can also be very constipating, so take care not to overdo it.WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?
I decided my fail-safe rolled pavlova recipe would be the first test case, and so I added some vegetable charcoal powder to the mix.
The contrast between the black meringue and the cream was, in a word, startling.
Not sure about the taste, though: it was just like biting into a lump of crispy coal.TASTE FOR YOURSELF
Serves: 10
Difficulty: Easy
6 extra-large egg whites
5ml (1 tsp) white vinegar
350g ( 1 ¾ cups) caster sugar
90ml (6 tbsp) vegetable charcoal powder (leave it out for a plain pavlova, replacing it with 5ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract)
250ml (1 cup) cream, whipped
A handful of strawberriesMethod:

Preheat the oven to 160°C.
In the bowl of an electric mixer on a stand whisk the egg whites and vinegar till very stiff. Then slowly add the sugar, about 125ml (½ cup) at a time and beat well after every addition.
Beat in the vegetable charcoal powder and continue beating till mixed through and the mixture is black.
Line a 30 x 40cm baking tray with baking paper and spray with cooking spray.
Spread the mixture evenly in the pan and bake for 30-35 minutes till puffed up, crisp and cooked through.
Turn out onto a clean dishcloth and cool.
Peel off the paper and using scissors, trim off the edges. Spread with cream, retaining a little for the top, and roll up like a Swiss roll.
Pipe swirls of cream on the top and decorate with strawberries.FRESH EARTH'S BLACK LEMONADE
Ballenden suggests drinking this black lemonade as part of a five-day detox plan during which you drink a glassful two hours before breakfast and two hours after supper.
Drink loads of water during your detox as activated charcoal can make you very constipated.
Serves: 1
Difficulty: Easy
1 litre of fresh filtered water
Juice of 2 lemons (retain the halves)
25g of fresh ginger, sliced
2 drops of lemon therapeutic essential oil
A pinch of fine Himalayan sea salt
15ml (1 tbsp) organic pure maple syrup
5ml (1 tsp) activated charcoal powder

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