Trending Ingredient: Charcoal Is the New Black

From cold-pressed juice to artisanal ice cream, culinary-grade activated charcoal is taking local menus to the dark side.

charcoal ingredient 1

Publico’s Corpse Reviver. / Photograph by Toan Trinh

It turns out one of the latest food crazes isn’t really a food at all. Made from coconut shells and wood, among other substances, the porous form of carbon known as activated charcoal has long been used as an antidote to poison in hospital settings, and is often found in beauty products such as facemasks and scrubs. So how did it make its way onto the plate? Well, health nuts swear by its purported detoxifying properties (goodbye, hangover). But in many cases, chefs and bartenders are using the flavorless black powder purely for vanity. “Eating is very visual, and color plays a huge part in how we eat and what we taste,” says Il Molo executive chef Pino Maffeo.

Publico Street Bistro & Garden
Publico’s Corpse Reviver

Playing off the concept that a hair-of-the-dog cocktail can bring you back “from the dead,” Teodora Bakardzhieva, co-owner of the recently opened Publico restaurant, in Southie, uses activated charcoal to turn her take on the classic Corpse Reviver pitch black. The citrusy brunch drink also includes London Dry gin, anise-y Colombian Aguardiente, and the bittersweet apéritif Tempus Fugit Kina L’aero d’Or.

charcoal ingredient 2

Photograph by Toan Trinh

By Chloe
On the Road

Sick of green juice? Try black. The activated-charcoal sipper at the first Boston outpost of this Manhattan-based vegan fast-casual spot combines the buzzy powder with lemon juice, maple syrup, and filtered water to create a lemonade-like refresher. Think of it as a Master Cleanse drink updated for the 21st century.

charcoal ingredient 3

Photograph by Toan Trinh

Charcoal-Yuzu Macaron

A pinch of bamboo charcoal gives Meritage’s striking macarons “brilliant color without the aftertaste of food coloring,” says pastry chef Shawn Dresser. He completes the confection by sandwiching two of the delicate, chewy cookies around a tart yuzu filling.

charcoal ingredient 4

Photograph by Toan Trinh

Il Molo
Arctic Char Crudo with Charcoal Froth

A bubbly black foam isn’t the first thing you’d expect to see as a garnish on pristine raw fish. “People are thinking bitter, burnt…but it’s something completely opposite that’s light and inviting,” says Maffeo of his smoked-soy-and-wasabi-based charcoal froth, pictured on Arctic char with radishes, pomelo, and chives.

charcoal ingredient 5

Photograph by Toan Trinh

The Parlor Ice Cream Co.
Lemon Ash Ice Cream

It looks gloomy, but tastes sunny. Parlor proprietor Jacqueline Dole got such rave reviews for this lemon-Creamsicle-like treat, a custom creation for the opening of a black-and-white art exhibit, that it’s now in regular rotation at her pop-up shop. The ice cream wiz is also experimenting with making her own activated charcoal from charred lemons.