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A most fascinating ingredient that has played a part in food trends over the past couple of years is Activated Charcoal. Initially whilst I thought the blackness it created in food was fun, I wasn’t so sure of the safety of it being ingested. When we designed a class to include black steamed buns, we initially used sesame powder which created a pleasant marbled grey effect, but it missed the mark of the startling “moon-less night sky” black achieved only with activated charcoal.
Activated charcoal is not simply made from burnt out charcoal that is ground to a powder, but by superheating natural sources of carbon such as wood and coal. Industrial grade (often using waste products) is completely different to food grade which is predominantly made from coconut husks and completely safe to ingest.
With little or no flavour, it makes everything it touches a liquorice black including your face as you can see in the photo of me at the head of the table, hosting a past Food Tour Dinner!
A minuscule amount made a big smudge on my face, just one teaspoon of activate charcoal has a larger surface area than a football field!
Once ‘activated’ the surface area is huge and the absorption is greatly increased, so enabling the powder to absorb a massive amount of molecules, ions or atoms. Activated charcoal is used to effectively remove toxins from the body in medical emergencies, the body cannot absorb charcoal so toxins adhere to it and exit the body in the usual manner!
Cosmetic applications including (strangely enough) teeth whitening (which I haven’t tried) as well as culinary use has been all the rage for a while now. Using this ingredient in your kitchen can give your food presentation ‘the edge’. Purchase food-grade Activated Charcoal from health food stores, don’t try making your own!
We use activated charcoal in our Black Bao with Masterstock Chicken and Fermented Black Bean Sauce in our Epic Oriental Bites Class (and let me tell you, the food you’ll make and eat, is EPIC!). You can see in the pictures above, the black dough, the steamed buns and the finished oh-so-tasty-bites.
Activated charcoal is a fun ingredient to have on hand in your pantry and a little goes a long way. If you are a baker, try including it in yeasted or sourdough bread (think fruit loaf!) or serve Black Burger Buns at your next barbeque get-together and you’ll certainly have no lack of conversation.
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