Eating activated charcoal: trick or treat?

Charcoal ice cream
Monica Matys
Written by Monica Matys

We know it’s healthy to “eat the rainbow,” opting for colourful fruits and veggies over processed beige foods. But the colour spectrum has gotten a little darker on many plates lately. From artisanal breads to waffle cones, charcoal is being added to countless foods to give them a moody and distinct look. But what does charcoal do to the flavour of foods? And is it worth trying? Sunnybrook’s Executive Chef Serge Kostenko shares his take on this Instagram-worthy trend.

How new is this food fad, and where does it come from?

Charcoal is definitely a food trend right now, although it has long been used for various medicinal purposes. For example, it may be used to help treat certain types of poisonings, but its effectiveness isn’t clear for other indications, including vertigo and hangovers. The premise is that it binds with things it comes into contact with, helping remove toxins. Now charcoal is moving into so many other areas, ranging from skin care to cooking.

Does charcoal itself have a taste, or does it just change the colour and consistency of food?

Some say the charcoal adds a smoky and earthy flavour to some foods, but it’s mainly used by chefs to add colour. Squid ink has also been used in recipes to achieve a dark black colour, but because of its fishy aftertaste, its applications are limited to savoury dishes. Activated charcoal is used more in sweet dishes, like ice cream and waffles.

To be clear, this is different than charred or burnt foods?

Activated charcoal is a fine black powder made from bone char, coconut shells, peat, petroleum coke, coal, olive pits or sawdust. The powder is then added as an ingredient to a variety of recipes, transforming the final product to a vibrant black colour. You can find it at many grocery and health food stores and even online.

So what are your thoughts on this overall?

There’s no doubt that it’s become a social media craze. It does give chefs an opportunity to present something that is very comforting and familiar to us, like ice-cream or pizza, in a different way, even though the taste will still be the same (unless you add a LOT of it). Just keep in mind that moderation is key, and you might want to check with your doctor first if you are taking medications. But generally, the amounts used are very minor and shouldn’t leave any lasting effects after your meal is done.

Do you have a favourite charcoal-inspired recipe to try?

This is one I do with my kids for Hallowe’en. They love it!

Halloween gothic ice-cream


  • 1 14-ounce can of Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 2 cups of Heavy Cream
  • 1/4 cup of Edible Activated Charcoal
  • 1 tablespoon of Vanilla


  • Whip the cream until stiff peak
  • Fold in the condense milk to the whipped cream
  • Mix in the vanilla
  • Add the charcoal and mix gently to combine

Freeze for about 4-6 hours before serving. Enjoy!

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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