The latest trend in restaurants and bars, is feeling —– and indeed tasting —– THE BURN. It’s CHARCOAL as an actual ingredient —– bringing flavour, colour, texture and a touch of playfulness to plates of food and bottles of juice. As is so often the case with nascent ingredients, charcoal, is indebted to the health-food industry for much of its popularity. Although it doesn’t taste of anything, it adds a surprisingly pleasant granular texture —– you feel like you could almost chew the juice as you gulp it down. Christophe Reissfelder and Rebekah Hall, the duo behind Botanic Lab, are constantly on the lookout for unusual things to add to their concoctions (they’re currently investigating moth wings). And according to Hall, charcoal “ticks all the boxes” with its unusual granularity, striking hue and a gut-cleansing function to boot.
Surprisingly, these good-gut virtues have also thrust charcoal into the world of delicate French pastries. Activated charcoal is a common ingredient in desserts in Asia, and Loretta Liu has brought it to her London-based company —— Super Cute Macarons. She exclaims that the fusion of charcoal with the likes of goji berries and green tea “is as healthy as macarons are ever going to get”.
Although many associate blackened food with carcino-genics activated charcoal in fact has a storied past as a medical treatment. Nutritionist Jane Clarke says that it has historically been a remedy for food poisoning, but also calls it an “anecdotal” substance —–some doctors prescribe it, others dismiss it.
Whatever its merits as an elixir, reverence of the black stuff extends far beyond health enthusiasts. The most renowned ——- and longstanding ——- purveyor of charcoal in food is Simon Rogan, whose potatoes with onion ashes and ox in coal oil have become specialities at L’Enclume and The French in Manchester, respectively.
———- Jamie Waters.