Fea­ture: Ac­ti­vated char­coal

Ac­ti­vated char­coal is the lat­est health trend and it can be ap­plied to beauty and food. Laura Gelder asks, can it work on­board?

Onboard Hospitality - - Contents -

Peo­ple put strange things onto and into their bod­ies in the name of well­ness – they douse their ce­real with tiger nut milk, (ac­tu­ally a tu­ber rather than a nut, but ap­par­ently it’s stripy), take straw baths, sip turmeric lat­tes and now they're swal­low­ing and slather­ing on black ac­ti­vated char­coal.

Ac­ti­vated char­coal has long been added to beauty prod­ucts, with face masks, soaps and whiten­ing tooth­pastes con­tain­ing it widely avail­able.

It’s also pop­u­lar as a nat­u­ral way to ab­sorb un­pleas­ant odours, bac­te­ria, pol­lu­tants and al­ler­gens, and de­hu­mid­ify air, with­out adding a strong mask­ing scent to the mix (which might not be ap­pre­ci­ated by pas­sen­gers on a packed plane or train).

But now ac­ti­vated char­coal is pop­ping up in food and drink prod­uct ranges be­cause, it sup­port­ers claim, it can cleanse us of tox­ins, beat bloat­ing and even cure a heavy hang­over.

A few years ago there weren’t many ed­i­ble things that came in black – squid ink pasta and liquorice for two – but in the age of In­sta­gram serv­ing black food is a one-way ticket to so­cial me­dia fame for many busi­nesses. Think of it as the edgy cousin of the uni­corn frap­puc­cino/ice cream/cup cake.

It sounds like some­thing you’d use to start a bar­beque and it’s not far off! Ac­ti­vated char­coal is made from car­bon-con­tain­ing ma­te­rial, like wood or co­conut shells, which is heated at high tem­per­a­tures to cre­ate char­coal, then ox­i­dised – or ac­ti­vated.

The ac­ti­vated ver­sion is por­ous with lots of small holes in its sur­face. Its this sponge-like struc­ture that al­lows it to soak up what­ever it comes into con­tact with, hence its use for detox­ing.

But di­eti­cian Eloise Bain says to be wary: “The detox abil­ity of ac­ti­vated char­coal is undis­puted, it's al­ways been used by emer­gency doc­tors to pre­vent poi­son­ing as it ab­sorbs chem­i­cals, but char­coal can't choose be­tween harm­ful chem­i­cals and healthy nu­tri­ents, bind­ing to both so that you may lose the ben­e­fit of the lat­ter. It may also mop up med­i­ca­tions.”

In re­al­ity most prod­ucts only have small amounts of ac­ti­vated char­coal in them though. One of the UK's mar­ket-lead­ing char­coal drinks, Wow Body Cleanse, rec­om­mends it's con­sumed at least an hour be­fore or af­ter med­i­ca­tion but it uses just 0.5g in its blend of cold-pressed juices, de­rived from co­conut shells and put through a steam­ing process. WOW founder, Oliver Dick­in­son says: “WOW Body Cleanse is an af­ford­able, great-tast­ing, cold-pressed drink, great for re­set­ting your body or as a re­fresh­ing pick-me-up.”

The low-calo­rie drink doesn’t taste re­motely of ash and comes in three fresh flavours: Lemon & Ginger, Mint and Rasp­berry.

It’s not alone in the mar­ket. High-end su­per­mar­ket Waitrose has been sell­ing a salmon and cream cheese char­coal bread bagel for two years, en­dorsed by celebrity chef He­ston Blu­men­thal.

Burger King was an early pi­o­neer, of­fer­ing a ‘kuro burger’ in some of its Ja­panese stores as far back as 2012, sand­wich­ing a patty be­tween a char­coal bun, with black cheese, and a black sauce of squid ink.

Some ex­perts may not be con­vinced of its health cre­den­tials. The New York Depart­ment of Health banned foods con­tain­ing ac­ti­vated char­coal this June. But in 2011 the Euro­pean Food Safety Au­thor­ity sup­ported the claim that it can re­duce flat­u­lence! Travel and trou­bled stom­achs go hand-in-hand so per­haps this is a trend which has legs for on­board hospi­tal­ity.

As an el­e­ment within on­board F&B, at its worst ac­ti­vated char­coal is prob­a­bly an in­ef­fec­tive but com­fort­ing placebo. At its best it demon­strates well­ness aware­ness and is bang on trend. It’s also a nat­u­ral colourant which makes a dish stand out form the so­cial me­dia crowd. Whether it’s a pass­ing fad or not, it’s one worth con­sid­er­ing – af­ter all, the uni­corn 'fad' is still here!

Fac­ing page: ac­ti­vated char­coal in a face mask and a bagel. This page: char­coal ice cream; a char­coal burger bun; and Wow Body Cleanse

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