Activated charcoal is a sad scam

By Kate Welsh
Updated February 13, 2018
EC: The Most Overused Breakfast Ingredient of 2017
Credit: Photo by Rimma_Bondarenko via getty images

In case you missed it, 2017 was a bad year. The bleak news just kept on coming. (And coming and coming and coming.) In the world of food, though, there was one small blessing: That rainbow trend nonsense faded out. Fairy toast and unicorn lattes and rainbow bagels have mostly disappeared, allowing foods and drinks to actually be the colors they're meant to be. However, as with any reaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And the reaction to all those bright colors, my friends, has been the overwhelming amount of pitch black food.

The hue comes from activated charcoal. The black powder is basically carbon that has been processed at a high heat to effectively bind to and subsequently remove things—bad things, like "toxins"—in the body when you consume it. Unsurprisingly, with a promise like "removes toxins!," activated charcoal is a huge trend in the wellness community, who seem to love it as much for it's theoretical health benefits as for it's shocking aesthetic on Instagram. As such, the pitch-black powder has found it's way into fried chicken and pancakes almost as frequently as smoothies and cocktails.

At first it was funny—Troll toast, anyone?—but now this activated charcoal obsession is just depressing.

First of all, activated charcoal itself is a bit of a scam. While medically, it is sometimes given to people to manage poisoning or an overdose, there's not a lot of evidence to prove that on a day-to-day, small doses of the stuff will do all that much for you. In fact, it can be harmful if combined with certain medications or used in excess. Plus, activated charcoal can also bind to the good stuff, like nutrients, and strip those away from you. You need those nutrients, pal!

Secondly, not sure if you've eaten charcoal before, but it doesn't taste great. It isn't the worst—in fact it often doesn't taste like anything at all—but it's not good.

Thirdly, and more importantly, after more than a year of being forced to stare into the pitch black souls of powerful people who have endlessly abused their position, I'm not sure I have the patience for any more darkness, even and especially when it comes to food. I count on food to to bring me joy, to nourish me, to bring me close to people I love. Deep black food may win you likes on Instagram, but it won't actually win you any friends. It may seem like a leap, but when the world is so bleak already, I don't need my food to be, too.

I'm still glad to have moved past that horrible rainbow phase, but let's release ourselves from this other dark extreme. In 2018, I'd like to enjoy my food in the hue it's meant to be.