It all started off as a detox fad when this ingredient, which is not really appetising to look at, first made its way into fresh-pressed juices, smoothies and various cleanses. Kim Kardashian, Gwyneth Paltrow and Shailene Woodley became obsessed with charcoal lemonade and swore by its detox properties. Soon enough, activated charcoal as an ingredient started making its way to menus in restaurants and bars around the world. And India has caught on to this “black food” trend which promises to purify you.

“Charcoal foods are those dishes where the dark hues of the charcoal can be integrated into the batter. It entails introducing charcoal powder before the cooking stage. We only use charcoal powder made from bamboo and sourced from Singapore. This trend has arisen in Asia, but has gripped the entire food world now,” explains Anupam Banerjee, executive chef, The Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore.

Personal trainer and nutritional counsellor Britt Brandon, in her book Activated Charcoal for Health, writes that activated charcoal has been around for a long time, and that this all-natural powder can do everything from combating chronic diseases to providing relief for common ailments. In fact, doctors use charcoal for treating poisoning and drugs overdose.

Charcoal Seafood Dimsum.

So what exact form of charcoal is used in food today? The charcoal used as an ingredient in food is made by burning a source of carbon, like coconut shells, bamboo, wood or other plant materials. Today, charcoal is not just being used in food because of its detoxifying properties, but has even made way into toothpaste, face cleansers and masks as it has deep cleansing effects. Activated charcoal is also used to purify water and as a cure for tummy issues.

From Delhi and Mumbai to Jaipur and Bangalore, chefs are busy experimenting with activated charcoal and coming up with novel flavours and dishes to appeal to their guests. Executive chef Prasad Metrani, of Fairmont Jaipur, says, “My interest in this beautiful concept developed during my recent food tour to Bangkok, where at Sukhumvit, I saw ‘Purple Sweet Potato’ and ‘Charcoal Ice-cream in Charcoal Waffles’ being sold on the streets. I thought it was a superb

Once Metrani returned to Jaipur, he began work on incorporating activated charcoal into his menu, and today Chicken Sliders, Blue Cheese Fondue & Charcoal Bun, and Activated Charcoal Steamed Bao with Pokchoy and Orange Peel sit proudly on the Farimont’s menu.

At Gastronomica, Delhi, you’ll find items like charcoal-infused pizza, charcoal-infused spaghetti and Blacked Chicken Breast with Sauteed Mushrooms on offer for guests. Ask Gastronomica owner, Sumit Goyal, why pizza and pasta with activated charcoal, and he says, “We have tried to keep the dishes very purist, and simple as far as the flavours are concerned to attract everyone to

Charcoal Fish Fry.

There have been numerous debates as to whether consuming activated charcoal is healthy and how much of it can be consumed. Says Executive chef Anupam Banerjee, “Food experts have established that there is nothing unhealthy about charcoal food. As is with any other food trend, people tend to associate some aspect of health, and many have claimed that it is healthy and helps to detox. Not sure if there are any merits to that claim. My suggestion, if you want good health eat more veggies, fruit and whole grains.”

Not everyone might enjoy black food or charcoal-infused dishes. The charred look of the food itself might put off some, regardless of the taste. Restaurateurs have faced such issues in India as well. Piyush Jain is the chef and owner of Decode, Rajouri Garden, Delhi. He says that when he introduced activated charcoal in dishes like Charcoal Fish Fry with Popcorn Sprinkled Fries, and presented them to people, many were not ready to accept the dishes because of their colour and appearance. “When I informed them about the properties of charcoal, they became willing to, and excited about, trying out these dishes,” adds Piyush.

You might still not be sure whether activated charcoal dishes are something you want to try. Chefs point out, though, that very small doses of activated charcoal are actually used in food. As Chef Rahul Singh Kholia of Brew Buddy, Gurgaon, gets ready to head to the kitchen, he lets people in on a secret. He says, “Activated charcoal is the best thing to get rid of a hangover!” One is not sure whether activated charcoal purifies and detoxes, but it sure looks like the black food and drink trend is here to stay.