The secret ingredient to the darkest treats you’ll make this Halloween

Grill-loving Americans are used to cooking over charcoal, but we’re just now starting to think about how we might cook *with* it.

The blogger behind Rice and Flour made this zebra cake using activated charcoal to darken part of the batter. Contributed by Rice and Flour

Activated charcoal popped up on my radar a couple of years ago when I saw activated lemonade from Juice Society that was darker than any food product I’d consumed in a long time.

MORE: Charcoal cocktails offer their own kind of dark magic for Halloween

It wasn’t until Jess Pryles’ released her Hardcore Carnivore product that activated charcoal entered my house, and now I used that pitch-black meat rub on just about every steak I sear.

I haven’t started using activated charcoal in baking, but there are lots of bloggers who are way ahead of me on that trend. It looks like you can add a small amount to many different batters and doughs to get a darker color in the finished product. Most cooks say the charcoal adds more color than flavor, while others have mentioned a slightly charcoal-y taste.

 

Activated charcoal is one of the ingredients in this black lemonade from Austin’s Juice Society. Contributed by Juice Society

Our beer/wine/spirits columnist Arianna Auber has a story this week featuring local spirit-makers who are using activated charcoal for spooky drinks this October.

She addressed the health concerns of ingesting activated charcoal, which is also used to counteract some poisons and overdoses.

Well before bartenders began co-opting it for pitch-colored cocktails, activated charcoal was popular with those who say it provides myriad benefits in the fields of health, beauty and science. Far more porous than the charcoal that barbecues your steaks, the powder traps toxins and chemicals, so whether it’s in your gut in the form of a capsule or on your face as a mask to flush out your pores, activated charcoal is both a bona fide poison treatment method and a popular home remedy.

The detoxifier has its downsides, however, which is why some bartenders hesitate to use it. Namely, activated charcoal doesn’t differentiate between the kinds of chemicals that it might absorb, which means that it could potentially affect the medications and supplements you take while they’re still in your stomach. (More cautious mixologists recommend avoiding charcoal cocktails if you’re taking prescription medications, or at least waiting a few hours until they’ve been absorbed.)

You can find activated charcoal in the bulk and spice sections of some natural and higher-end grocery stores, but it’s also found in the health section of some retailers, including Walmart.

Walmart is now selling this brand of activated charcoal, which you can use for health/beauty care or in baking and cooking.

Some people use it for teeth whitening, which is good news for those of us who might be use it in extra-dark cupcakes: Unlike food coloring, the activated charcoal won’t stain your teeth.

Have you used activated charcoal in your kitchen? Any tips for others who want to try it out?

//storify.com/broylesa/austin360cooks-september-2017.js?border=false&template=grid[View the story “Austin360Cooks: September-October 2017” on Storify]

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