There have been so many food trends in the past couple years that it’s hard to keep track of what is still in style or what is passé. First, there was the wave of burgers: mac and cheese burgers, ramen burgers, sushi burgers, etc. Then we got into phases of waffle-ing anything and everything, boozy ice cream, matcha, lavender, turmeric and more.

But one could argue that two of the biggest food trends this past year were the unicorn trend and the charcoal trend. The deep black of charcoal serves as a perfect juxtaposition to the bright colors of the unicorn trend. Charcoal has been seen in lattes, ice cream, pizza crusts, and cocktails. People may be eager to try this food fad, but, what really is it? Does it actually taste good? And, is it really worth all the attention?

What am I eating?

The charcoal used in food is activated charcoal, otherwise known as coconut ash or activated carbon. It is made by heating coconut shells to extremely high temperatures until they are completely burned, creating coconut ashes. Those ashes are then processed with steam or hot air at very high temperatures to which largely increases the surface area of the charcoal. This large surface area makes it a strong detoxifier because it can absorb materials in large quantities. This detoxifying ability of the charcoal attracts healthy foodies who go on juice cleanses and scroll through Goop on the daily. The charcoal can be bought in pill form and labels claim that it fight hangovers, decreases the side effects of food poisoning, and even fights aging.

The Claimed Benefits:

Activated charcoal can boost energy indirectly because of its detoxifying effects that rid the body of toxins and oxidants. Decreasing the number of toxins in the body is good for a person's overall health, but there is no concrete evidence that this necessarily increases energy. Charcoal can also help cure your hangover because of its detoxifying abilities, but it won't remove alcohol from your system if you're still tipsy in the morning. Additionally, charcoal can help your stomach de-bloat because it helps cleanse the intestines and colon. All of the above claims, while exciting, do not have very solid evidence to back them up. The only definite benefit to activated charcoal is that it is a detoxifier.   

Is it worth it?

Now that we know what activated charcoal is and what it does to the body, we can discuss the most important factor: taste. For all the hubbub surrounding it, charcoal adds no flavor to a food. Therefore most charcoal foods will be dominated by the normal flavor of the dish, like vanilla soft serve. If you get yourself a charcoal latte, it will simply taste like a normal latte. The charcoal is purely an aesthetic aspect that achieves a deep black, a color that is hard to attain with other dyes or foods. Given this trend seems to add a cost, it doesn't seem like it’s worth the expensive price tag to me.

Activated charcoal is not bad for you, but it also isn’t proven to be good for you, either. It's safe to consume as long as you’re not consuming it in whopping portions every day, but there is no hard evidence for all of the benefits that health foodies adore. There is no denying that the charcoal trend is worthy of Instagram, but I don’t see it lasting through the end of 2018.